Why all this debate over predestination vs. free will. I mean, it appears to me that answers for most of the questions are readily at hand. We shouldn’t be surprised at this, since the bible deals specifically with such questions. If God set out to reveal these things to us, chances are he has succeeded, and now it’s merely a matter of us noticing.
I don’t mean the we should have the answer to every possible question. Or to put it another way, I don’t mean that we should be unable to ask questions that we can not answer. What I do mean is that the biblical teaching is available for our inspection and I do not think it is lacking. We have it in our power (God has given it to us) to know the fundamental answers to questions about predestination, the sovereignty of God and free will.
Question: Predestination or free will?
Answer: Definitely both.
When predestinationists and non-predestinationists debate I sometimes wonder why they disagree at all. Then one or the other will go and put his foot in his mouth by contradicting some clear biblical doctrine. Sometimes the predestinationist goes wrong more than his opponent, sometimes the other way around. Usually they each have their moments.
It has been a joy to see that for many people of different theological traditions, many of the disagreements are a matter of terminology and emphasis. The best explanation I can give for this phenomenon is that we are all working towards understanding and honoring the doctrines given to us by God and since he agrees with himself, we should all get there eventually.
One example of this terminology problem is the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. Most of the people that deny total depravity are denying what they think the term means rather than what it must mean. (I hesitate to say “what it really means” since it’s not a biblical term and different speakers can use terms differently.) There is definitely a biblical doctrine of the depravity of man and many Calvinists have a pretty good grasp on it. It is a point of emphasis for Calvinists, and as such, they may understand it better than those who haven’t given it as much attention.
I have even been surprised to learn recently that the Roman Catholic Church officially agrees with one of the crucial elements of the protestant reformation, namely, salvation by faith, not by works. Apparently, they continue to phrase it differently from Lutherans, but both groups agree in substance that faith in Christ’s work secures salvation and good works then flow from that faith. Sound very biblical!
Why the debate?
The big reason why people vacillate between, argue over and debate predestination vs. free will is that there seems to be a contradiction. If we are predestined to do certain things, then in what sense do we have the freedom to choose? And correspondingly, if we are free to choose our own actions, how is it that there is no possibility of ruining God’s plans? I believe that these are only apparent contradictions. I make this assertion based on the fact that both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are clear biblical doctrines.
That they are biblical doctrines is much clearer to me than that there is a contradiction. I propose to resolve the contradiction not so much by explaining in detail how God’s sovereignty and our free will work together, but by simply asserting, as the bible does, that they do. I will then point out that we don’t get significantly closer to understanding God’s relationship with our free will by concluding that either our will or his sovereignty is an illusion. That is, it is amazing to think that God can create a creature with free will at all. These creatures are not robots or puppets, -those we would understand how to make! But the bible tells us that God has created independent, morally-responsible beings. Given that we have not the slightest hint of understanding how he can do such a thing, why should we understand how he can do it and still remain sovereign?
The excesses of predestinationists
Predestinationists can write or speak extensively about their ideas and the biblical support for those ideas without contradicting my understanding of the scriptures. There are certain errors that can be expected to crop up, however. Depending on which predestinationist is doing the speaking, they may go wrong early and often, or only occasionally. Those that only occasionally go wrong appear to have a better grasp of the biblical doctrines and the logic which they use to present their case. The explanations of the rarely-wrong-predestinationist are more consistent with scripture and just as internally consistent. The fact that it is possible to agree with scripture and remain logically consistent without making these errors leads me to call them excesses. I don’t see that they are necessary parts of believing in predestination or the sovereignty of God.
They often err by presenting…
- God’s sovereignty as overruling free will
- men as incapable of responding to the gospel when it is proclaimed
- the invitation to believe in Christ as superficial or insincere
- evil as really, secretly being good
It is my contention that these errors are really errors, that they contradict the bible and that they do not logically follow from the biblical teaching of predestination.