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Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 5

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.


Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 4

See Part 1 here 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.


Calvinist Understanding of Election

Unconditional Election
God chooses for salvation based solely on His own good pleasure, not based on anything that He sees in anyone.

Ten Theses:

  1. God does not want (or wish for) anybody to be lost. He gives everyone room to repent. 2 Peter 3:9

I understand this to imply that there is no double predestination (the view that God also chose some to be lost).

  1. God does want (or wish for) everyone to be saved. 1 Tim. 2:4-6

Draw a distinction here between two levels of willing. There is a level of willing at which you wish something to be true, and there is a level at which you determine a thing. I wish I could play the cello, and if I wanted I could play the cello. But if I were to commit to this it would come at the exclusion of many other things in my life. So I am willing to make the wish, but not the determination. God wishes some things that He does not determine to be the case. Not everyone will be saved. But because God wishes everyone to be saved, God has provided salvation for everyone. 1 Tim. 2:4-6 (Remember, we have two sides of salvation: provision and application. This passage is talking about the provision side so you cannot use it to argue the application side.)

  1. No one seeks after God. Romans 3:11

But aren’t there unbelievers who seek God? Yes, of course! That’s the restoration of moral ability that God provides (either to the elect only, or to all men, depending on which view you take).

  1. Certain people were given to Christ by the Father. John 6:37; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 11, 24

You get the distinct impression that His followers are given to Him by His Father.

  1. God chooses individuals, and not merely a category, or a group. Romans 8:28-30

Foreknowledge –> Predestination –> Calling –> Justification –> Glorification

Focus on the level of justification. Does God justify categories, or just individuals?


You (if you are saved), personally, are justified. You individually have been robed in the righteousness of Christ. You are in God’s sight as righteous as Jesus Christ is. And He does this for you individually, not just for a category into which you opt. And if justification is individual, everything else in this list has to be individual because the logic doesn’t work if you change the meaning at different points. It’s all individual. Yes, it’s more than one person, and the conglomeration of individuals can be put into categories, but God does this for individuals, not categories.

  1. These individuals who are elect are chosen in Christ. Ephesians 1:4

When God chooses individuals, He chooses them with Calvary in mind. He doesn’t choose individuals and then figure out how He’s going to make them His own. In other words, the provision of salvation doesn’t depend on election. Rather, He determines how He’s going to save and then elects (sublapsarianism; see chart from Part 2).

  1. The ultimate result of God’s choice is the individual’s justification. Eph. 1:5-6; 5:25-7

The same people whom God justifies will also be glorified. No justified person can possibly fail to be glorified. The ultimate goal is glorification. The work of salvation is not done until our bodies have been redeemed, which is to say, until we are glorified. And this is more, I think, than just the reception of our glorified bodies at the Rapture. After we are caught away, we stand at the Bema seat of Christ, and are rewarded for our service for Christ. And I understand those crowns to be capacities to glorify Christ for all eternity. All of this is part of glorification. Not just the glorified bodies at the resurrection, but the glorification that comes through the rewards Christ gives us for what He has done through us. He did it, we were just willing. (And yes, there are categories there, but the glorification happens to individuals.)

  1. These individuals were chosen before the foundation of the world. Eph. 1:4

We get an analogy in Romans 9:11. We’re talking about God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. God chose Jacob to have preeminence over Esau before either was born so that it would become very clear that Jacob was not chosen because of his own virtues and Esau was not passed over because of his demerits. Rather, they were chosen ahead of time that it might be clear that it was God’s sovereign choice according to His own purpose. If that analogy holds, we’ve got a hint as to the answer between conditional election (Arminianism) and unconditional election (Calvinism). Being elect before the foundation of the world means God chose us without respect to what He foresaw we were going to do. It’s not a final case, but it certainly gives us a preliminary indication of the way things have to go. If this were the only evidence, I still think it would be enough to tilt the balance in one direction or the other. God’s choice could not have been based on “foreseen faith.”

  1. These individuals were chosen according to God’s foreknowledge. Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2

We have to decide what the word ‘foreknowledge’ means when we use it of God. What is God’s foreknowledge and how does it work? What we have is two competing definitions of foreknowledge. Your view of foreknowledge is going to determine your view of election. I am going to suggest that God’s foreknowledge is not merely God’s awareness (Arminianism) but his forethought (Calvinism). 
(More to come on that in the next post)

  1. These individuals were chosen according to God’s good pleasure. Eph. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:9

If you choose unconditional election, you are always going to be nagged with this question: “Why did God choose me?”

And I think the best answer at the end of the day is that it delighted Him to do so. Somehow God fastened His love on you. This is what we call “grace.” There’s absolutely no reason God should have done it. But He did. That’s grace. There is nothing good in me that attracted Him.

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


Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 3

Before we move forward, I want to add something that I had to leave out last time. I was writing Part 2 from Alaska where my wife and I were visiting family, and did not have access to this chart that I copied down in class. It is a wheel that helps us to picture the various positions along the soteriological spectrum (can a spectrum be circular?). Start at the bottom of the wheel and work your way to the top. Immediately after the chart we’ll jump into Part 3.

[And yes, I am aware that my PowerPoint drawing skills leave even more to be desired than my golf game.]



How Great A Salvation

If we are to understand salvation, we have to understand lostness. We are not poor little sheep who’ve lost their way. We are creatures who hate God and hate truth. We are repulsive to God. We are guilty. And guilt requires retribution.

All of this is what makes it so astonishing that God loves us; that He sent His only son to die on the cross for our sins. And what do we do? We reject it! We reject what came at infinite cost to Him. We despise it. We aren’t even capable of accepting it.

God would have been completely fair had He condemned all of us. He would have been doubly fair if He had condemned us (again) after we rejected His gift. If God singled out just one of us, just one, to seek and save, this would still be an infinite display of grace. But God has bent over backwards in a thousand ways to manifest His love. God’s love is not what’s at stake in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. Even if I believed in limited atonement as it is traditionally defined God still would be infinitely gracious and merciful (this is why I don’t have a big problem if someone does believe it, I don’t think it really matters. It still wouldn’t make God unfair or unjust. To think it does is absolutely backwards).

We are not innocent little sheep. We are infinitely treasonous wicked beings who hate God and hate truth. You have to understand this to understand the glory of God’s salvation.

Arminian Understandings of Election

1. Category Election (Karl Barth; R.B. Thiem; Robert Jordan)

In category election, God chooses a group but individuals choose to leave or enter the group. It’s like the bus to Los Angeles: you choose to get on or get off the bus. (Evidence cited: Romans 9-11 where God chooses a category in the people of Israel.)

Problem 1: It doesn’t solve any of the problems. It just moves the problem back one step. Ultimately our question is why do some believe and some do not. So now God elects a category. This still leaves the question why some people get on or off the bus.

Problem 2: The Bible specifically states that God chooses individual believers, and not just a category. 2 Thess. 2:13-14 speaks to specific individuals.

Very few notable theologians hold this view.

2. Conditional Election

God elects people based on some condition that He sees in them, namely, that God in eternity past looks down through the corridors of time and foresees who will be willing to trust Christ as Savior. Based on His foresight, God chooses people. There are two versions of this view:

1: God foresees that they will believe and chooses them to be saved. He can also choose them to be un-saved again. Losing salvation is not a necessity, but it is a possibility.

2: God foresees that they will be saved and chooses them to be glorified. What He foresees is different than what He elects them to. In this view they get around the problem of loss of salvation by saying that those whom God chooses to glorify cannot be lost.

In Part 4, we will handle Calvinist understandings of election.

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