Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Predestination & Free Will: An Issue of Foreknowledge or Sovereignty?

“We must rethink what we mean by God’s omniscience. A very high percentage of Christians hold that God knows everything, even the future, in exhaustive detail. This means that everything you and I will ever decide to do has ALREADY BEEN SPELLED OUT in the register of what will most certainly happen. Thus the belief that we are actually choosing between alternative courses of action is a mistake and an illusion. If God now knows that tomorrow you will select A and not B, then your belief that you will be making a genuine choice is mistaken. I agree with the traditional Calvinists that strong omniscience ENTAILS STRONG PREDESTINATION and also with Luther who argued precisely this against Erasmus. Invoking timelessness as C.S. Lewis and Aquinas do is no help. If God knows eternally that A will be the selection and not B, then it is still an illusion that any genuine alternative will exist at the time of the decision. It would appear to me that actions which are infallibly foreknown or timelessly known cannot be free in the required biblical sense” (Clark Pinnock in the chapter “God Limits His Knowledge,” from “Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom” by Editors David and Randall Basinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986, pages 156-157).

Here is Clark Pinnock at his best. For those who have not read his chapter titled “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” from his edited book “The Grace of God and the Will of Man,” I highly recommend it. The chapter is a summary of Pinnock’s story, revealing his change in theology from a conservative Calvinism to a New Arminianism (Neo-Arminianism). In Pinnock’s mind, since free will exists, then, for a choice to be truly free, one has to revise one’s understanding of divine foreknowledge. In Pinnock’s understanding, genuine free choice and exhaustive divine foreknowledge cannot coexist.

But I would like to submit that Pinnock’s response, although originating from a wrong approach, does bring the serious student of Scripture face-to-face with the question of how to reconcile predestination and free will. How do the two reconcile?
I would like to submit, however, that Pinnock’s perspective is due to a faulty understanding of what is meant by free will. For the classical Arminian, free will is appropriately termed “LIBERTARIAN FREE WILL.” This concept distinguishes the classical or evangelical Arminian from Clark Pinnock, who is a Neo-Arminian. Libertarian free will states that man is given choices—but those choices are limited, or fixed within boundaries. Scripturally, we see this in Genesis with God’s warning to Adam and Eve:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Adam and Eve were told that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “off-limits” to them. They had several other options in the Garden: there were LOTS of trees Adam and Eve could eat from…but the one tree they were forbidden to eat from.
And you would think that, within this boundary (one tree), Adam and Eve could be happy, WOULD be happy. If you weigh one tree versus literally HUNDREDS of trees, it seems as if not eating from one tree really isn’t all that bad of a commandment to follow. It’s only one tree, right? I mean, what could a person miss by not eating from ONE LITTLE TREE?

Evidently, EVERYTHING! Adam and Eve didn’t really think on the one tree until the serpent began to “advertise” the tree a bit:

“ ‘No! You will not die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘In fact, God knows that when you eat it YOUR EYES WILL BE OPENED AND YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL’” (Genesis 3:4-5, HCSB).

The serpent made it clear that Adam and Eve could rise beyond their current state as creatures and become equal to their Creator! It was a ridiculous thought, but the idea seemed to entice them both. It was control, the idea of becoming “like God” that drove them to turn against their benevolent Creator. They wanted to test the idea that they could become equal to God, instead of respecting their Creator and realizing that they could NEVER become equal to Him! In short, they wanted to “cross the boundaries” of their existence.

But what happened when they ate the fruit? They gained knowledge of good and evil, but they experienced punishment by the LORD, who drove them out of the Garden of Eden. Since Adam and Eve couldn’t respect their being made in the image of God, the LORD allowed them to live on their own, promising them that one day, they would return to the dust from whence they came (Gen. 3:19, HCSB).

Clark Pinnock’s idea, however, is very similar to Adam’s and Eve’s—except it involves the reverse idea. With Adam and Eve, it was the idea that they could become LIKE GOD that drove them; with Pinnock, it’s the idea that God is LIKE US that drives him to argue against God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of all events. In his eyes, a free choice allows us to go even beyond what God knows. But Genesis doesn’t say this. Genesis tells us that, from the beginning, God gave man boundaries as to the extent of his choices. And the same God that set boundaries for Adam and Eve is the same God who has set boundaries for the rest of human creation. Nothing we do is ever outside or beyond God’s control or foreknowledge. With Pinnock, though, man is his own god, and therefore able to make choices that even the God of the Universe isn’t aware of.

How can man make free choices IF God already knows about them beforehand? Well, the answer is found in the classical Arminian view of libertarian freedom. As stated above, this view allows man to make choices WITHIN SET BOUNDARIES. As I heard it discussed in class by my former Apologetics instructor Dr. Bruce Alva Little, free will in and of itself conjures up thoughts of autonomous free will…and there are certain things that man is not able to do (like fly, for instance). Man does not have autonomous free will to choose to fly, or to change shape, or to change from his human state. There are things that man can do, such as mold his shape through exercise and such; but he cannot CHANGE his shape and turn into a square, for instance. Man cannot become an animal, or spread his arms, have them turn into wings, and fly over land and sea. Man cannot create a world from nothing (as God did); neither can he raise the dead and bring them back to life. And, last but not least, there are MANY THINGS that humans cannot know (such as future events) afar off. Only God can know those things.

I leave you, the reader, with the words of the LORD God Himself in response to righteous Job:

2 Who is this who obscures [My] counsel
with ignorant words? (B)
3 Get ready to answer Me like a man;
when I question (C) you, you will inform Me.
4 Where were you when I established (D) the earth?
Tell [Me], if you have [a] understanding.
5 Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 What supports its foundations?
Or who laid its cornerstone
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God (E) shouted for joy?
8 Who enclosed the sea behind doors
when it burst from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its blanket, (F) [b]
10 when I determined its boundaries [c]
and put [its] bars and doors in place,
11 when I declared: "You may come this far, but no farther;
your proud waves stop here"?
12 Have you ever in your life commanded the morning
or assigned the dawn its place,
13 so it may seize the edges of the earth
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth is changed as clay is by a seal;
[its hills] stand out like [the folds of] a garment.
15 Light [d] is withheld from the wicked,
and the arm raised [in violence] is broken.
16 Have you traveled to the sources of the sea
or walked in the depths of the oceans?
17 Have the gates (G) of death been revealed to you?
Have you seen the gates of death's shadow?
18 Have you comprehended the extent of the earth?
Tell [Me], if you know all this.
19 Where is the road to the home of light?
[Do you know] where darkness lives,
20 so you can lead it back to its border?
Are you familiar with the paths to its home?
21 Don't you know? You were already born; (H)
you have lived so long! [e]
22 Have you entered the [place] where the snow is stored?
Or have you seen the storehouses of hail, (I)
23 which I hold in reserve for times of trouble,
for the day of warfare and battle? (J)
24 What road leads to [the place] where light is dispersed? [f]
[Where is the source of] the east wind that spreads across the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the flooding rain
or clears the way for lightning,
26 to bring rain on an uninhabited land,
[on] a desert with no human life, [g]
27 to satisfy the parched wasteland
and cause the grass to sprout? (K)
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathered the drops of dew? (L)
29 Whose womb did the ice come from?
Who gave birth to the frost of heaven
30 when water becomes as hard as stone, [h]
and the surface of the watery depths is frozen? (M)
31 Can you fasten the chains of the Pleiades
or loosen the belt of Orion?
32 Can you bring out the constellations [i] in their season
and lead the Bear [j] and her cubs? (N)
33 Do you know the laws (O) of heaven?
Can you impose its [k] authority on earth?
34 Can you command [l] the clouds
so that a flood of water covers you? (P)
35 Can you send out lightning (Q) bolts, and they go?
Do they report to you: "Here we are"?
36 Who put wisdom (R) in the heart [m]
or gave the mind understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the water jars of heaven
38 when the dust hardens like cast metal
and the clods [of dirt] stick together?
39 Can you hunt prey for a lioness
or satisfy the appetite of young lions (S)
40 when they crouch in their dens
and lie in wait within their lairs?
41 Who provides the raven's food (T)
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
(Job 38:2-41, HCSB)

a. Job 38:4 Lit know
b. Job 38:9 Lit swaddling clothes
c. Job 38:10 Lit I broke My statute on it
d. Job 38:15 Lit Their light
e. Job 38:21 Lit born; the number of your days is great
f. Job 38:24 Or where lightning is distributed
g. Job 38:26 Lit life in it
h. Job 38:30 Lit water hides itself as the stone
i. Job 38:32 Or Mazzaroth; Hb obscure
j. Job 38:32 Or lead Aldebaran
k. Job 38:33 Or God's
l. Job 38:34 Lit lift up your voice to
m. Job 38:36 Or the inner self; [Ps 51:6]

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