Dan Delzell’s Christianpost article, Predestination and God's Desire to Save Everyone, reminded me of a statement made by theologian Loraine Boettner in his classic book on predestination: “The doctrine of Predestination has been made the subject of almost endless discussion, much of which, it must be admitted, was for the purpose of softening its outlines or of explaining it away.”
I mean no disrespect at all to Mr. Delzell when I say that, only that his article – written from the Arminian point of view – is definitely something crafted to take the punch and sting out of what I believe the Biblical doctrine of predestination truly means. For example, Delzell writes:
The doctrine of predestination is there to provide comfort to believers. It is intended to assure us that God is not going to let go of us. But the doctrine of predestination is not in the Bible for unbelievers. In other words, it is not there to suggest to unbelievers that some of them may not be "predestined."
Is that true? Let’s take a short tour of predestination in the Bible and see if it matches up with what Delzell says.
The word ‘predestined’ is used in six verses in the New Testament:
- “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. ” (Acts 4:28)
- “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:29-30)
- “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7)
- “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5)
- “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11)
The Greek term, proorizō, means exactly what you’d expect: decide beforehand; predetermine, so there is no mystery about what it stands for. If you’re a Christian, you can’t ignore its place in Scripture, but that said, I think the primary debate among believers is not whether to dismiss the idea of predestination, but rather it’s over the basis of God’s foreordination.
Most Christians explain predestination like this: “God predestines the plan, but not the man,” which seems to be Delzell’s stance. To the first part of God predestining His plan of salvation, there’s no argument as Scripture is plain on the subject: “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).
But what about God predestining the person as well as the plan? Ah, there’s the rub and the “softening” of the doctrine to which Boettner was referring.
I believe predestination applies to each person who receives Christ as well as the overall plan of Christ dying for His people. But to understand this, we have to quickly examine the three ‘camps’ of how Christians explain how predestination works in the lives of individuals.
By far, the most popular explanation of how predestination works in our lives is that of the prescient view. Prescient (pre-science or fore-knowledge) means knowledge of things before they exist or happen; foreknowledge; foresight. This position says God does choose people for salvation, but His choice is based on His foreknowledge of what they will do.
Prescients say God looks down through history and knows in advance who will respond to the call of the gospel message and who will not. God chooses people based on His knowledge of whether they will respond to His call and them having faith, and is conditional on a person’s faith.
Prescients rely on verses like Rom. 8:29 and 1 Pet. 1:1-2 and argue that since foreknowledge precedes predestination, it is the one and only basis of predestination. However, is that how ‘foreknowledge’ is really used in Scripture?
Consider Acts 2:22-23 again: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
Now ask yourself – did God look down through history, see what Christ would do, and then predestine Jesus to fulfill His plan? No, foreknowledge in this context (and all others) means God knew the plan because He made and chose the plan, as well as the man.
Lastly, a major problem often overlooked by prescients is that, in their view, they have God learning something. However, Scripture states that God is omniscient and never learns anything. So in embracing this view, prescients are embarking down the path of open theism, a heretical teaching they would do well to avoid.
God Really Knows
The position on predestination most likely in the minority today is that of Molinism. Developed by the Jesuit Luis de Molina, the Molinist position is much like the prescient view, although the concept of ‘middle knowledge’ is what distinguishes it from the base prescient stance.
According to Molinism, God arranges the world as He chooses based on His middle knowledge. God exercises sovereign control in the sense that He creates the person He wishes to create and brings about the circumstances He wills, knowing just what free will choices all those persons will make in the circumstances He has brought about.
Although a bit different, Molinism is simply a variation on the prescient view and suffers from the aforementioned issues. Its other primary drawback is that the Biblical support for it is nearly non-existent.
The Reformed position (credited first to Augustine) on predestination doesn’t deny that God has foreknowledge or that He has the ability to know everything that could or will be.
According to Reformed theology, for reasons known only to God Himself, He elected some to salvation with there being no condition (like the prescient view of a person first exercising faith) whatsoever imposed on the individual. God chose some people for Himself and allows all others to continue in their freely chosen sin and eventually experience His justice.
Whether it is God choosing Abraham from out of everyone else on the planet or Paul who had a taste for murdering Christians, Scripture showcases the reformed view of predestination from cover to cover.
We see the Bible saying only those who are appointed (predestined) to eternal life believe and not the other way around (Acts 13:48). That God must first open a person’s heart before they exhibit faith (Acts 16:14). That salvation doesn’t depend on a person exercising their own will, but its basis is God who has mercy on those He chooses (Rom. 9:15-16, 18).
We hear Jesus say that it is only the people that He grants knowledge to who will come to know God (Matt. 11:27). That only those who the Father gives to Him comes to Him (John 6:37). That no one comes to Him unless the Father draws them, and those that are drawn will be raised up to be like Christ (John 6:55; note that all who come will believe and be perfected, which is the not the case with everyone). That many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14).
Boiling it Down
All that said, what is the primary difference between the prescient and reformed positions? It’s this:
The first is primarily based on man’s choice and the second in God’s choice. The first is based primarily on the willing of the unbeliever and the latter on the willing of God.
Jonathan Edwards summed it up like this: “Those who have received salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone, and to give all the praise to Him, who makes them to differ from others.”
Lastly, in trying to make his case that God does not just predestine some, Dan says: “But there is not so much as one verse of Scripture which teaches that Jesus died only for His sheep. Not one. It simply isn't taught in Scripture. Christ died for all, plain and simple. (1 Peter 3:18)”. However, there are actually numerous verses that refer to the fact that Jesus died only for those whom God predestined (e.g. Is. 53:11; Matt. 1:21; John 10:11, 15; John 17:9; Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25).
So while my Christian brother Dan Delzell wants to smooth off the seemingly repellant edges of the doctrine of predestination, I’ll have to respectfully disagree and say that his Arminian view of the teaching is lacking in many respects. I believe the Reformed view of predestination is the correct stance for the reasons I’ve outlined.
Why care which view is correct? Many Christians don’t and are content to live as if there’s no difference in believing one view vs. another. I’d disagree and quote John MacArthur who gives us a good reason for why believing in the Reformed view of predestination matters:
Let me tell you in closing how you ought to think about the doctrine of election. Election is pride crushing. That’s the first thing I want you to think about. It just produces nothing but humility. It is not that you believe because you were smarter than anyone else, or better than anybody else, or wiser than anybody else. It is that you were chosen. Spurgeon called this doctrine the most stripping doctrine in all the world. He said, “I know nothing, nothing again that is more humbling than this doctrine of election.” He said, “I have sometimes fallen prostrate before it when endeavoring to understand it, but when I came near it and the one thought possessed me, God has chosen me from the beginning unto salvation, I was staggered by that mighty thought and from the dizzy elevation down came my soul, prostrate and broken, saying, Lord I am nothing, I am less than nothing, why me, why me?”
In our day where pride and the me-monster run unchecked, I’d say that’s a pretty compelling reason wouldn’t you say? That and, of course, because it’s also what Scripture teaches.
 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Kindle Edition, Loc 98-9.
 Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (409). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
 To view a PowerPoint presentation on the doctrine of limited or definite atonement, see: http://www.slideshare.net/schumacr/sovereignty-free-will-and-salvation-limited-atonement.