What happens when you ask the pastor about predestination…

scribe.2A friend from church handed my his thoughts on election and free will last Sunday and asked for my comments.  so I thought I would delete any names and post my thoughts here.

Hi______, I looked at your notes from Sunday.

First of all, I recommend this book:  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer, IVP (it has been around forever, so it is probably cheap on Amazon). He lays out the issues.

Second, I see two overall ideas in the scripture

  • Our choices and actions are real, have significance and we are accountable for them.  How could that be true if they are predetermined without our will.
  • God knows and elects us from before the foundation of the world is an idea found in a varity of places, including Ephesians 1 and Revelation (book of life) and Romans 8-11.

Packer calls this an antinomy – two ideas held to be true despite their apparent contradiction.  (Wikipedia: Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant)

Most people resolve the antimony by

  • emphasizing God’s Sovereignty –  Election.   This is the “Calvinist” position (but really looks back at least to St. Augustine).  This position can be either rather blunt (God does all the deciding) or nuanced (our will is somehow concurrent with the will of God, or he cause it so we freely choose, or something similar – this is called “concordism” if I recall correctly))
  • Emphasize human choice, often called “free will”.  This is the Arminian/Wesleyan position.
    Basically saying that God cannot or does not negate our choices – how could he pass judgment against sin if it was determined by him?  Can God predetermine sin?  etc.  The older Wesleyan Arminians held that God knows everything in the future but somehow limited himself.  Some open theists say that God die snot know the future but makes good guesses.

I prefer to leave the antinomy unresolved and allow for the fact that somehow in the nature of God it is not a contradiction.  If you press me, I think it has to do with God’s eternity.  He is somehow outside of time (science tells us that time is a dimension;  a product of space/time)  So it would be possible for him to know in his eternal present what is future to us.  In “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis he describes it as like a man watching a parade, not from the street, where it is seen from start to finish sequentially,  but from a tower, where the viewer can see it all at once.

There are other antinomies – God is love and holy – how can he forgive sin when he is pure?  (the Cross)  

“Free will” is a specifically Arminian kind of term.  I prefer to use other words less loaded.  Our wills are not totally free or someone could have decided not to sin, but none have.  So we are effected by the corruption of sin in that way.  I use the term “choice” or “will”.  Luther was a hard liner on this point and wrote a book “The Bondage of the Will”. John Wesley talked about “prevenient grace” where God enables us to get to the place where we can hear the gospel and decide.  Calvinists will say that God saves us and only then do we believe.  (There is an old debate over the Order of Salvation – “ordo salutis” – which I find to be a lot of picayune scholasticism.

I have also found that the Bible does not “answer” some classic philosophical questions such as the problem of evil or free will.  Job and other passages deal with the problem of evil, but in the form of a narrative story and epic poetry that in the end does not give a rigorous answer but says “you have to trust me on this.”  I note that the logic of election and free choice run into a wall of apparent contradiction.  but so do other things we hold to such as:  Matter can be described as waves or particles and both are true depending on how you look at it.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is another example.   Is that a contradiction or is there some deep level of science where that will be resolved.

I hope that helps.

That is not what I meant…

In the discussion over “Praying the Scriptures” someone asked if we are somehow limited to only praying the scriptures.

The answer is NO.

I believe the Biblical record contains about every kind of prayer you can imagine, from spontaneous to formal, from long to short, from ragged to elegant.  Every sort of mood and emotion are evident.  There is not a set order (the Lord’s Prayer starts with praise, but often the Psalms start with a complaint and end with praise.)

What I am saying is that the Scriptures should be in our spiritual tool kit – they can show us words we can use, promises and concepts we can grasp, forms we can follow and rich variety.

I once heard a wood-carver say, “I have over 200 tools, but I use about 12 of them 95% of the time.” Often we keep our use of our tool kit down to one or two, or worse yet, we keep the tools in the tool box and go watch someone on This Old House use their tools.

Don’t be that guy.


Class notes on James 4:4,5

Q:  What is the deal with James 4:4,5?  

James 4:4-5 (ESV)    You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us“?   J

ames 4:4,5 (NIV)      You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. [5] Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 

James 4:4,5 (NASV)            4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with  the world is  hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  [5] Or do you think that the Scripture  speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us“?   

James 4:4,5 (NKJV)            Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?    

 James 4:4,5 (NLT)You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. [5] What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? *             *(OR that God longs jealously for the human spirit he has placed within us? or that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, opposes our envy?) 

 V4 – The sense seems clear that “friendship” with the world is incompatible with “friendship” with God.  While we are to Love the world as God did, (note that John 3:16 uses the Greek verb based on agape), we are not to be intimate friends with the world (James uses philia).  It is similar to Jesus teaching in  

Matthew 6:24     “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   V. 5 Is more difficult.          

  v. 5a – there does not seem to be a specific verse quoted, but a sense of the             scriptures in general. 

v. 5b in Greek looks like this   

toward     envy/jealousy     he/it longs      the spirit       

pros   phthonon           epipothei      to pneuma   

which/whom       *he dwells        in          us      ho                     *katokisen       en        humin           

  *Textual variant {C} katokesen –  “he causes to dwell”  (two different verbs) 

There are two linguistic issues:

  •   In Greek, word order is not that important, unlike English, so the words can be put together in several ways.
  •   James is influenced by Hebrew – so his Greek travels through a Hebrew Filter, before it ever gets to English. 

There are several interpretive questions:           

Who is longing/jealous/yearning?                         

  • The (human) spirit                       
  • The Holy Spirit                       
  • God                        

For whom or what is he longing?                         

  • The spirit lusts (for the world)                       
  • The Spirit yearns (for us)                       
  • The Spirit is jealous (of the world)                       
  • God is jealous (for our spirit)                       
  • God is jealous (for the Holy Spirit in us)           

Is it yearning or jealousy?    

Is it the Holy Spirit in us, the human spirit, or the spirit of sinfulness?                       

Which textual variant should be used?                       

  • The spirit/Spirit who dwells in us                       
  • The spirit/Spirit who was caused to dwell in us

What is with James 4:4,5 ?

 blue-question-mark.jpgWhat is up with James 4:4,5?  There are quite a number of differences in the translations.  Does the last part talk about the Holy Spirit or the human spirit, and is the Lord jealous for us or are we zealous for worldliness? 

James 4:4-5 (ESV)
    You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?”

Stay Tuned…..


Will of God

April 29, 2007   Adult Class

Question:  “Is everything that happens God’s will?  How does our free will work with God’s will?  Does sin “mess up” God’s will or does he still use our sin to accomplish his will?

Towards an Answer: 

            Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Ed. W. Elwell, “Will of God”  p. 1172

            Systematic Theology, W. Grudem, p. 211-216

Theologians have made some helpful distinctions.  Let’s look at these and compare them with some scriptures:

God’s will is Necessary and Free

            Necessary – His will, within himself, shown in his actions and laws must be consistent with his own character.  For example:  God does not lie.

            (II Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18, James 1:13, I Sam 15:29, Numbers 23:19)


            Free – His will is free with regard to his creation.  His actions in creation, preservation and salvation were freely chosen.

            (Is 43:7; 48:9-11; Rom 11:36; I Cor. 8:6; Eph 1:12; Rev 4:11)

God’s will is Secret and Revealed

            Secret (or “Hidden” or “Decretive”) – God has determined by his own plan (or decrees) known only to himself, how everything will be accomplished.  It is all inclusive (Ephesians 1:11) and not revealed to us in full (Dt 29:29).

            (Ps 115:3, Dan 4:17, 25, 32, 35; Rom 9:18-19; 11:33-24; Eph 1:5, 9, 11, Rev 4:11)

            Revealed (or “Preceptive”) – God revealed to us what he wants us to do, “his will”, though his commands, laws, precepts and teachings in the scriptures. 

            (Mt 7:21; 12:50; Jn 4:24, Rom 12:2; 20:8, Dt 30:14)

Exploring the distinctions:  the question has to do mostly with God’s Revealed or his Secret will:  Let’s discuss the following examples to see if these distinctions make any sense.

 “Is everything that happens God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

Class discussion – Things occure as part of God overall plan of everything.  Nothing surprises Him.  However, our rebellions are contrary to God’s revealed will whenever we violate the word of scripture or reject the witness of natural revelation.

“How does our free will work with God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

We are able to make choices to to good or bad things.  God’s secret (overall plan) is not diverted or overturned – as if he should say, “Oops, I didn’t think that would happen!”  Our freedom allows us to disobey God’s revealed commands.

“Does sin Mess up God’s (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?”

It contradicts his revealed will (the laws, commands, wisdom of scripture) and it contradicts his character (necessary will) but it does not mess up God’s overall plan – as he knew sin was part of what would happen.

“Or does God use our sin to accomplish his (necessary/free/revealed/secret) will?

Without excusing us, yes.  Examples oare Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Pharoah’s hardness of heart in the Exodus.  Pilate’s question, “What is the truth?”.    While contradicting his commands (revealed will) his plan is still accomplished.  Consider the verse: 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquties; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” are we asking for God’s secret will or his revealed will to be done?

When we ask for his Kingdom to come, we are asking for what God has revealed to be in our future to actually happen.  We are asking that his revealed will come to be.  Even while we know that God knows when it will happen already. 

Does I Tim 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 refer to God’s secret or revealed will?

Scripture indicates that not everyone will be saved.  However, it is God’s revealed invitation (the Gospel) that all who will come in faith will be saved.  These verses refer to God’s revealed will.  In his overall all plan (secret will) he knows that many will not be saved – if you don’t believe that to be true, read the Book of Revelation!

Does James 4:15 refer to God’s secret or revealed will?

There does not appear to be any command to go or not to go on the business trip.  It is not a matter of God’s revealed will, but a matter of wisdom.  However, in that God has an overall plan for everything (secret will) he alone knows what will happen – whether they will be able to go, arrive, do business, make a profit and return.  This verse refers to the hidden will of God.

Are these things always neat and satisfying? 

See Habakkuk 1

Why Pray? R. Foster says…

blue-question-mark.jpgWhy Pray?

By focusing on this basic parent-child relationship, we get light on two of the most common problems in Petitionary Prayer.  The first is the very reasonable question of why we should ask God for things when he already knows our needs.  The most straightforward answer to this question is that God likes to be asked.  We like our children to ask us for things that we already know they need because the very asking enhances and deepens the relationship….” 

Prayer, Richard Foster, 1992, Harper Collins,  p. 181

See Class Notes 

Question on Prayer


Prayer – someone asks – “What exactly is intercession’s  purpose?” 

Intercession refers to prayers for others.  Here is the issue:  God does not need to be informed or reminded of the need, so why do we need to pray?

Sample Text:  Philippians 4:6-7 – ESV
    do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  So What do you think?


Go Ahead and Ask

blue-question-mark.jpg    Go ahead and ask!

This is a re-statement of this invitation.  In our actual class, we will be putting out a question box with this question mark on the side.  Present your questions, not to “stump the expert” but to help us all engage in conversation.

Example #1:  In Genesis 22, wouldn’t someone who heard that God told him to kill his son be sent to a mental institution?  Why is this here?  And why is Isaac called the “only” son, where there is also Ishmael?

Example #2:  Why does it say in one place “Not to love the world or the things of the world” and yet “God so loved the world” ?  What does “world” mean in the Bible?

All you Fresh Read readers are invited to enter your questions into this cyber-question box.


You Ask Fresh Read

 blue-question-mark.jpg  Your Questions

This is a new “category” (list of posts to the right, under “pages”).  Feel free to ask your questions about the Bible to Fresh Read and to all the readers of this Blog.

All you have to do is make a comment below.

Hey, you might learn something.