Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Geisler Glitch

In the work “Predestination & Free Will” by brother-editors David and Randall Basinger, Norman Geisler contributes a chapter called “God Knows All Things.” John Feinberg writes the first chapter (prior to Geisler) and serves as the Regular Calvinist of the bunch. Geisler, however, writes as the “Modified” Calvinist: while he affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and free will, he argues that God is the cause of all things; therefore, if man gets to choose, God is the cause of the choice—thus making God responsible for both good AND evil. This is what he writes in his section titled “Theological Views”:

“Some evangelicals believe that God knows in advance (by his omniscience) just what choices everyone will make, for example, whether to accept or to reject salvation. Hence, on the basis of their foreknown free choice to accept Christ, God chooses (elects) to save them. Thus humans are totally free to accept or reject God, being under no coercion from him. On the other hand, since God is all-knowing, he is in sovereign control of the whole universe because he knew what everyone would choose to do, even before he created the world. In short, humans are entirely free and yet God is in complete control of the universe. But the ‘control’ is not based on coercion of the events but on KNOWLEDGE of what the free agents would do.

This view faces SEVERAL PROBLEMS. First, the biblical data seem to say more than God simply KNEW what was going to happen. Scripture seems to say that God actually DETERMINED what was going to happen and that he even assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about…Second, if God’s choice to save was based on those who chose him, then IT WOULD NOT BE BASED ON DIVINE GRACE BUT WOULD BE BASED ON HUMAN EFFORT. THIS FLIES IN THE FACE OF THE WHOLE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON GRACE (compare Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). And it is contrary to the clear teaching of several passages of Scripture that salvation does not spring from the human will. John said believers are ‘children born not of natural descent, NOR OF HUMAN DECISION or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). Paul adds, salvation does not ‘depend on man’s desire [will] or effort, but on God’s mercy’
(Rom. 9:16)” (Norman Geisler, from “Predestination and Free Will,” by eds. David and Randall Basinger, pages 66-67).

I remember when mom bought our family a Compaq desktop computer back some twelve or thirteen years ago. My sister and I needed the computer for school work, as we were getting into the “computer age,” where EVERYTHING was being done on computers. It was so fun when we finally brought it home from the Radio Shack where we purchased it. But what we didn’t know was that the software (Windows 95) had a glitch in it: some small “hole” or imperfection about it that would affect its performance. Everything seemed fine—until one day, the glitch had hidden itself long enough. From that moment on, we faced the fact that there was a glitch in the software and that we would have to live with it—until we could afford new software.

Arguments can seem like that, too: solid, effective, and fresh—until you peel back the frame and see what they’re really made of. The same goes for Geisler’s argument. He seems, all throughout his chapter on “God Knows All Things,” to uphold Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility side-by-side in perfect harmony—until he gets to the issue of predetermination and foreknowledge.

Geisler responds to the Arminian view of foreknowledge with what he claims is proof against the position: Philippians 1:6—

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The problem with the above verse is that it has been taken out of context. Read Philippians 1:7 and you’ll understand:

“It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and YOU ARE ALL PARTNERS WITH ME IN GRACE, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.” (HCSB)

Paul says that his feeling toward them is proper not just because he loved them (which he did)—but because they had actually been laboring in love for Christ: “you are all partners with me in grace, both in my IMPRISONMENT and in the DEFENSE and ESTABLISHMENT of the gospel.” The church at Philippi had been active alongside of Paul in spreading the gospel. In verse 6, he credits this work to God (“He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion”); however, in verse 7, he makes it clear that the Philippians have physically done the work. The Philippians, however, are YIELDING to the work that God is doing inside of them. The Lord does cause us to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8: ). Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:12-13—

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose” (HCSB).

Paul first tells the Philippians to physically live out their salvation; then he tells them to do it: because “God…is working in you”. In other words, God is in them, so their lives should reflect God’s work in their words and deeds.

In verse 15 Paul tells them the ethical importance of living to show God’s presence
in their lives:

“so that you may be BLAMELESS AND PURE, children of God who are FAULTLESS in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom YOU SHINE LIKE STARS in the world.”

Paul’s words here echo Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:

“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN, so that they may see your good works and GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN” (Matthew 5:15-16, HCSB).

The set purpose for living to reflect God’s presence in our lives is so that God would be glorified. And when we don’t, we blaspheme God’s name instead of bringing glory to it. David’s murder of Uriah, and affair with Bathsheba, caused the enemies of God to blaspheme the LORD—and that is why David’s “sin child” with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 11:13-14).

The next attack Geisler makes about foreknowledge before predetermination is that, if it is true, then human will is involved in salvation. Geisler then quotes two passages, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5-7. Let’s look at each of these passages.
Ephesians 2:8-9 talks about “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one should boast.”

The “that” in “and that not of yourselves” does not refer to “faith,” but “saved” (salvation). However, to make this statement, one must PRESUPPOSE that faith is a work—and it is not. For, in the passage of Ephesians 2 that Geisler mentions on page 66 of “Predestination and Free Will,” we read that “for by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH.” First, we needed grace, unmerited favor (for we deserved nothing short of death and eternal separation from God). But, then, salvation is not appropriated until, given the grace of God by the Spirit of Grace, we demonstrate FAITH in the Son of God. So when we profess Christ as Lord and Savior, we are only accepting and receiving the work Christ DID for us. There’s nothing that we’re doing to “merit” salvation.

In Titus 3:5-7, the context is “the importance of good works”! When Paul tells them that “He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy…” (3:5), Paul is saying that those in Titus’ congregation (and fellow believers today) that we should “be submissive to rulers…to obey, to be ready for EVERY GOOD WORK…” because we have been freed from our former course of life: “for we too were once FOOLISH, DISOBEDIENT, DECEIVED, CAPTIVES OF VARIOUS PASSIONS AND PLEASURES, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another” (Titus 3:3, HCSB). The believer should do good works because HE HAS BEEN SAVED FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE! Before the believer was saved, he could only live out the course of this world—he couldn’t live a godly life! But now, the believer has been given the Spirit by which he is to be controlled; and thus, should live a godly life because his life in Christ is to be different than his life was while he was enslaved to sin.
“The works of righteousness” of Titus 3:5, however, DOES NOT cancel out the good works of the same chapter! Paul is saying that our salvation did not come from good works; however, our new life in Christ is to be characterized by good works. To use Ephesians 2 once more,

“For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, HCSB).

The good works were prepared beforehand (before time) for us to walk in them. The believer’s walk was PREDESTINED for good works. Because this is the plan, the believer should live up to the plan, allow the plan to take root in their lives and produce fruit for the kingdom of God. If Calvinists (such as Geisler and even those of Feinberg’s position) are gonna interpret these verses to say that the believer can do NOTHING GOOD unless the Spirit pushes us to do it, then Calvinists need to be consistent and argue that, even after salvation, there is no importance in issues like endurance. They seem so die-hard sure about perseverance, that believers should persevere; but when you talk to them about foreseen faith, now, a person can’t believe unless God “elects” them to salvation! If the Lord pulls you into salvation to begin with (He “unconditionally” elects you), then He will UNCONDITIONALLY PERSEVERE you (which means that you don’t need a statement of perseverance). In the words of Paul’s attack on antinomianism (no law) in Romans,

“But if by my lie God’s truth is amplified to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, JUST AS SOME PEOPLE SLANDEROUSLY CLAIM WE SAY, ‘Let us do evil so that good may come’? THEIR CONDEMNATION IS DESERVED!” (Romans 3:7-8, HCSB)

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