Friday, December 11, 2009

The Significance of Foreseen Faith

I decided to write this blog post because of the common attack against Arminians that I hear all the time: that Arminians claim God elects persons based on foreseen faith----and that, in the minds of Calvinists, Arminians are the ones with the farfetched theological views.

Robert A. Peterson does this in his book, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility”:

“Not once does Jesus teach that the Father gave people to him [Jesus] because they believe in him, BECAUSE HE FORESAW THEIR FAITH, or the like (regarding John 17)” (Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 65).

“It is incorrect to maintain that election is based on God’s FORESEEING PEOPLE’S FAITH” (61).

“God does not elect them on the basis of FORESEEN MERIT OR FORESEEN FAITH” (46).
“This teaching [2 Tim. 1:8-9] does not fit with the Arminian idea that God chooses based on HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE OF FAITH IN HIS SON” (102).

“We conclude then, that Paul’s locating election before creation flies in the face of the Arminian concept of conditional election: the idea that God chose us BASED ON HIS FORESEEING OUR FAITH IN HIS SON” (104).

“Arminians read FORESEEN FAITH into the words [of Ephesians 1] as an attempt to harmonize their view of conditional election with the apostle’s words. But the attempt fails” (107).

These are but six references from Peterson’s book regarding the Arminian belief in foreseen faith.

Why do Calvinists have such a problem with what God foreknows and foresees? Here’s what David had to say about God’s prescience:

“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, BEING YET UNFORMED. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, WHEN AS YET THERE WERE NONE OF THEM” (Psalm 139:15-16, NKJV).

This is the same God, David said, who understood his thoughts from afar (Ps. 139:2) and knew every word on his tongue before he even said it (v.4).

Calvinists seem to have no problem with God “foreknowing” what their days would turn out to be and “foreseeing” their lives before they were even conceived. Why then do they have such a problem with God foreseeing the faith of those who would believe?

And the biggest kicker of all comes when you consider that Paul believed Scripture foresaw the faith of the Gentiles:

“And the Scripture, FORESEEING THAT GOD WOULD JUSTIFY THE GENTILES BY FAITH, preached the gospel to Abraham BEFOREHAND, saying, ‘In you ALL THE NATIONS shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:8-9. NKJV).

Paul said that God foresaw His plans to justify the Gentiles by faith. The fact that God would justify the Gentiles by faith means that the Lord would allow Gentiles to come to Him on the basis of faith in Christ. This makes sense when we consider key verses within Romans 9, that disputed passage that Calvinists like to claim as belonging to their theology:

“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, EVEN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, HAS NOT ATTAINED TO THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Why? BECAUSE THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, BUT AS IT WERE, BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Romans 9:30-32, NKJV).

Romans 9 shows us the fulfillment of the Scriptures----in the reality of Gentiles coming to believe in Christ and being counted among His elect. But does this mean that Christ CHOSE some and not others? Of course not! After all, if that were the case, Paul would not be struggling to understand why the Jews were not saved (Romans 9:1-4); instead, he would simply have said “Well, God doesn’t desire them to be saved, that’s why.” What further provides anguish for Paul is the fact that “the adoption [and] the promises” belong to them (9:4)...and yet, they are not “children of promise” (Galatians 3). The fact that Paul has such anguish over them demonstrates that He believes that the Jews, like the Gentiles, can believe on Christ’s name.

The Scripture foresaw the faith of the Gentiles, but does not “force” the Gentiles to believe and be saved. Placed alongside of passages like Acts 13, where the Jews “count themselves unworthy of eternal life,” we see that God doesn’t count anyone out----although many will never receive the free gift of salvation that Christ has to offer.

Foreseen faith, then, is not just an “invention” of Arminians; it is a biblical concept that demonstrates God’s sovereignty over all things. If He foresaw our days “when as yet there were none of them” (as David says in Psalm 139), then how can we believe that foreseen faith is unbiblical seeing that He foreknew everything about us?


Anonymous said...

And don't forget the verses where God wants "all men to be saved". How could He want all men to be saved, yet intentionally not save most of them (as a Calvinist would believe).

Christopher de Vidal said...

I'm afraid I don't understand how these Scriptures say that foreseen faith is the basis of election. Yes faith is foreseen and yes righteousness is by faith (glory!) but how does this teach that this is the basis of election? I'm confused. Please email if you update this post: CBdeVidal (DOT) jk1 (AT) Gmail (DOT) com.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks for responding.

The point of the post was to make a logical extension from what is known (that God would justify Gentiles by faith) to what is rather "hidden" (what is the nature of the election decree in eternity past, taken from Ephesians 1).

What theologians often do in their assessments of theology is incorporate logic. We believe that God made us to be logical beings who can make accurate deductions of certain things, going from what is known to what is unknown. We do this in mathematics and other areas of life, so why not in theology?

This was not to argue that God elects on the basis of foreseen faith from this passage, or even the passage on David; this was merely to "suggest" ("suggest" is the key word) that God foreknowing the faith of individuals is possible because God foreknows everything else about us. The post was not to argue why I think what I do, but to suggest that my understanding "could be" correct. There is a major difference between arguing that something "is" correct and something "could be" correct---one is possible, the other is actual.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me here again. Thanks.