Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 5

by Jonathan Hamilton

See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. See what we covered last time here. Please remember: these posts will only be as meaningful as the effort you put forth to engage with the texts of Scriptures referenced throughout. Let’s jump in.


Remember our hourglass from the first post in the Hamartiology series, which we revisited in Part 4. We are now at “foreknowledge,” the fulcrum of our discussion on sin and salvation.

God’s foreknowledge is the dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism. How do we define foreknowledge? This is really the core issue.

Let’s take a look at the word “foreknow” in its different forms in Scripture:

Foreknow (Proginosko): Ac. 26:5; Rom. 8:29, 11:22; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:17

Foreknowledge (Prognosis): Ac. 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:2

Foreordain (Proorizo): Ac. 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5, 11


Foreknowledge Defined:

Arminianism Calvinism (two views)
God’s foresight looking down through history -God’s Favor, or love

-God’s forethought; determination ahead of time of what He is going to do

God never drew a conclusion. All of His knowledge is immediate and intuitive. Famously: “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has occurred to God?”

Proginosko and prognosis sometimes have humans as their subject, making them limited in usefulness in helping to settle this debate. Proorizo always has God as its subject. We need to restrict ourselves to passages that use this form, and better yet, use those passages which are the most clear.

Why do Arminians define “foreknowledge” as they do?

Problems their definition is thought to solve:
1: It eliminates the appearance of unfairness on God’s part because it puts the onus on the individual (God isn’t making the choice, it’s really people making the choice, which means God’s choice of them depends on something within the individual. Arminians may go into orbit if you start talking this way, but I don’t see any way around it logically. Election is really contingent on something in the chooser. We have a name for that, it’s called “merit”).

2: It preserves a libertarian theory of human freedom. God’s choice is no longer “manipulative” or “coercive” (as they would view the Calvinistic views of foreknowledge).

An Arminian wants foreknowledge to be foresight because he doesn’t like the implications of unconditional election. Unconditional election is irretractably connected to irresistible grace, which means if God has chosen you, you will be saved, and if things are that certain then you can’t really have a free choice. It’s a foregone conclusion, which to them makes it coercive and manipulative.

Here’s the problem: Does God know you are going to be saved? Yes. Can God’s knowledge possibly be mistaken? No. So isn’t your choice 100% certain anyways? So you see, the problem that Roger Olson and other Arminians try to avoid in one place is still a problem here. The choice is still 100% certain (because God’s foreknowledge, even if passive, cannot be incorrect). So where’s the “freedom?”

On the other hand, if your definition of freedom involves the possibility of you making a different choice than the one God foresaw that you would make, then the outcome has to be that God can’t really know whether or not you will be saved. This is where Open Theism (a recent heresy that says God does not exhaustively know the future) comes from. In Open Theism, God can’t possibly know the future choice of individuals. He can guess, and He’s a really, really, really good guesser. But He can’t know. This is where you ultimately have to go to preserve “freedom” (by their definition).

Open Theism is far more logically consistent than Arminianism, but less Biblical. Arminianism is more biblical, but less consistent. The Arminian’s inconsistency saves him from heresy, but it is still inconsistency. An Arminian will vehemently deny believing in a system of merit, and I take them at their word that they actually believe that they deny a system of merit, but I think they’re wrong and illogical by claiming such. A system of merit is the logical conclusion of Arminianism and it ends in Semi-Pelagianism (another heresy).

The reason I bring up the merit problem and the Open Theism problem is not to indict Arminians. I bring it up to show them that while trying to avoid the “problem” of unfairness with God they’ve created a whole new problem in a system of merit. By trying to avoid the “problem” of foreknowledge they’ve created the problem of Open Theism.

SIDE NOTE: Why is it such a big deal if we mix merit in, or confuse faith with merit?

Romans 4:4-5 and 11:6

These passages create two compartments. In one goes grace and faith, and in the other goes work and debt. The containers are airtight. It’s impossible to mix them. If any work or debt seeps over into the grace or faith compartment, what you have is no longer grace. It is tainted and is now something less than grace. You can’t mix works with grace and you can’t mix debt with faith. If salvation is by grace, it is by grace alone. If salvation is through faith, it is through faith alone. It allows no mixture of debt or works.

Regarding Calvinistic “View 1” of Foreknowledge:
This view emphasizes the intimate definition of knowledge in the Bible, such as Adam knowing his wife Eve. There’s more going on than just pure factual knowledge. God, in eternity past, places His love on the elect person and on this basis He elects. Problem: I can’t think of any instances in which the words foreknowledge or foreknow are used in this way in the Bible.

Regarding Calvinistic “View 2” of Foreknowledge:
Foreknowledge is forethought (determination). Our chief evidence comes from the text itself. And the crucial question here is this: Do circumstances cause God’s foreknowledge, or does God’s foreknowledge cause circumstances?

Two texts are sufficiently clear to help us to make a decision at this point:

Acts 2:23
Peter, during his Pentecostal speech, declares that Christ was delivered by God’s foreknowledge. Was God simply passively aware that Christ was going to be delivered and crucified, or did God plan Christ’s deliverance and crucifixion? Here, we have no doubt because the instrumental case is being used. God’s foreknowledge caused something to happen. To say it slightly differently: God’s foreknowledge causes things to happen. (Additionally, it would be ludicrous to suggest God did not ordain this event.)

1 Peter 1:20
Again, was God simply passively aware, or did He plan the death of Christ? Did God sit back in eternity past and look down through the corridors of time and say, “I’m gonna’ send my Son into the world, let’s see what’s gonna’ happen”? The answer is very clear.

The Arminian is going to say, “Yes, God foreordained it because He foresaw that it would happen.” This is called special pleading.

These passages give us a biblical, textual definition of foreknowledge. We’re not relying on etymology, or philosophy, or whatever else. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen. So if I am elect according to God’s foreknowledge, what that means is that God’s foreknowledge causes my choice. There is some meaningful sense in which a choice can be caused and yet still be free. There is a meaningful sense in which some form of causation or determination is compatible with some meaningful form of free choice.

Application of this definition: Romans 8:28-30
1: God foreknew some, that is, He foreordained some to salvation.

2: God predestined those whom He selected, which means that He actually planned how He would get them saved.

3: God called the predestined ones. He actively brought them to the point of faith.

4: God justified the called ones, He pronounced them righteous on condition of their faith (not “on the basis”; the death of Christ and His righteousness is the basis).

5: God glorified those whom He had justified.

Interestingly, this is all past tense in the text. In the mind of God we are already seated with Christ.

[Important note: Most people, even Bible college and seminary graduates, don’t have enough theological acumen to really know the ‘where’ and ‘why’ they stand where they say they do on this issue of foreknowledge. Humans have a massive capacity for inconsistency, and most people have not rigorously thought through the implications of their “system” and what they say they believe.]

If this Calvinistic view of foreknowledge is correct, how can you say that you are saved through faith?
You have to remember our definition of “free.” As long as you are not forced to act against your will or prevented from acting according to your will you are free. But persuasion is a possibility.

What is irresistible grace?
It does not mean that God drags the elect into His kingdom kicking and screaming. They are never saved against their will or without their consent. It does not mean the elect can never say no to God’s invitation. They can and do for a while. They resist God’s grace temporarily.

It does not mean that they are saved apart from their choice and their trust. It does not address the question of means at all. It makes no statement about how God does what God does. All it addresses is result.

Positively stated, irresistible grace simply means all whom God has chosen will, in the long run, ultimately and freely choose His salvation. If God has chosen you, then you are going to believe. And you will do it freely and you will do it because you want to. How does God get us there? We’re not going to answer that. The Bible doesn’t tell us that. We are not answering the ‘how’ question, only the ‘what’ question, because that is all that the Bible answers.