The Unbreakable Chain of Salvation. Part 1: The Meaning of “Foreknowledge” in Rom. 8:29

Questions about God’s foreknowledge and his election of certain people to salvation are frequently raised during my talks in churches and colleges. These questions are raised not out of mere curiosity, but out of a desire to be assured of one’s salvation. Such an assurance may be enjoyed only if we believe that God is the author of our salvation from beginning to the end, that salvation is by God’s grace alone and that the history of the church with its ups and downs is not the result of arbitrary human choices, but represents the working out of God’s eternal plan of salvation. Hence, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in predestination and election (monergism) is a most comforting doctrine.

I. The Salvation Chain
 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8: 29-30).

When Paul states that to those who love God and are called according to his purpose all things work together for good, he is not thinking only of those things that can be seen round about us now, or those events that are taking place now; no, he includes even time and eternity. The chain of salvation he is discussing reaches back to that which, considered from a human standpoint, could be called the dim past, “the quiet recess of eternity,” and forward into the boundless future.One very important fact must be mentioned: every link in this chain of salvation represents a divine action. To be sure, human responsibility and action is not thereby ruled out, but here (Rom. 8:29, 30) it is never specifically mentioned. [William Hendriksen Romans (Baker Books, 1981), p. 281] Continue reading “The Unbreakable Chain of Salvation. Part 1: The Meaning of “Foreknowledge” in Rom. 8:29”

Definite Atonement (Part 3/3). The Logic of 1 John 2:1-2

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“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

I. Biblical data that supports the premises of the two following arguments
Christ is the propitiation for our sins. He intercedes with the Father on the basis of his accomplished his work of atonement. He is the perfect advocate whose intercession with the Father is always successful (I John 2:1; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24-26; John 11:41-42,).

II. Argument 1 from Christ’s intercession
Premise: Christ’s intercession with the Father is always successful.

Outline of argument:
(1) If Jesus intercedes for all, all would actually be saved.
(2) But not all are saved.
(3) Therefore Jesus does not intercede for all.*

III. Argument 2 from “Propitiation”
Premise: Christ as “propitiation” has turned away God’s wrath (1John 2:2).

Outline of argument:
1) If Christ has really bore God’s wrath for everybody, nobody will go to hell, since their punishment has already been born by Christ.
2) But Scripture does testify that the wicked will experience punishment in hell.
3) Therefore Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of everybody

IV. The Logic of the arguments
The two arguments have the same logical form: Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 3/3). The Logic of 1 John 2:1-2”

Definite Atonement (Part 2/3): Biblical Evidence and Theological Arguments

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It is imperative that theological discourse goes beyond polemics and offers positive evidence and constructive arguments to establish the veracity of doctrine. This being the case, I would like to invite our readers to consider carefully several lines of biblical evidence and theological arguments for the doctrine of definite atonement given below:

The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture
The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).

Christ’s High-Priestly Work Restricted to the Elect Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 2/3): Biblical Evidence and Theological Arguments”

Definite Atonement (Part 1/3): Engaging Arminian Proof Texts for Universal Atonement

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Arminians charge Calvinists as guilty of diminishing the universal significance of Christ’s atonement by teaching definite (limited) atonement. However, Calvinists reject the charge as unwarranted since they affirm the atonement of Christ as “sufficient for all.” In truth, it is the Arminians who limit the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement by teaching that Christ’s atonement only offers potential salvation for all, since there remains a possibility that Christ’s atonement may not achieve its intended purpose. [Re: Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists] This uncertainty precludes believers from enjoying any assurance of salvation. In contrast, Calvinists teach that Christ’s atonement does not merely make salvation possible; it accomplishes a definite purpose. It makes salvation certain as Christ really saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom he died. Christ’s atonement is “effective for the elect.” Hence believers may enjoy the assurance of salvation.

Arminians also reject the Calvinists’ understanding of the phrase, “for all” to mean “all without distinction” as hermeneutical gymnastics that go against the plain reading of Scripture which for Arminians, would require understanding the phrase, Christ died “for all” to mean “all without exception.”

The purpose of this post is to defend the Calvinists’ reading by engaging with several favorite Arminian proof texts for universal atonement. For convenience, I shall quote generously from several established commentators. Continue reading “Definite Atonement (Part 1/3): Engaging Arminian Proof Texts for Universal Atonement”

Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists

The term “Limited Atonement” has become a favorite fodder for Arminians in their criticism of Calvinism (or preferably, Reformed theology). However, their criticism is misplaced for the following reasons:

(1) Historically, the term, “TULIP” was not used when the five points of Calvinism were originally affirmed in the Synod of Dort (1618). It gained popularity only in the 20th century as a convenient mnemonic device to summarize five central teachings of Reformed theology.
(2) The criticism is misguided.  It would be more fruitful to shift the debate from a fixation with the negative term, “Limited Atonement” (which suggests a spirit of defensiveness), to an engagement with the positive affirmation of the Reformed doctrine of “Definite Atonement,” “Effective Atonement” or “Particular Redemption.”
(3) Arminians should think twice before throwing stones at the Calvinists when they themselves could well be living in a glass house. In truth, Arminians also teach a “Limited Atonement”, perhaps more so than Reformed theology! [Tu quoque?] Continue reading “Why Arminians Limit the Atonement More than Calvinists”

Debate on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Fundamental Philosophical Concepts

Before proceeding further in our series of posts on divine sovereignty and human freedom, it would be good to clarify some of the contested concepts in the debate.

Let’s begin with two fundamental concepts:
1) Free will. The ability of an agent to make genuine choices that stem from the self. Libertarians argue that free will includes the power to determine the will itself, so that a person with free will can will more than one thing. Compatibilists typically view free will as the power to act in accordance with one’s own will rather than being constrained by some external cause, allowing that the will itself may ultimately be causally determined by something beyond the self. Hard determinists deny the existence of free will altogether. Most Christian theologians agree that humans possess free will in some sense but disagree about what kind of freedom is necessary. The possession of free will does not entail an ability not to sin, since human freedom is shaped and limited by human character. Thus a human person may be free to choose among possibilities in some situations but still be unable to avoid all sin. /1/ Continue reading “Debate on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom: Fundamental Philosophical Concepts”

Reading: G.C. Berkouwer on Freedom and Divine Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 4/7

Divine Providence and Determination Do not Negate Human Freedom

[Berkouwer warns against associating divine election with phrases like ‘incontestable freedom” and “absolute possibility” as these descriptions “open the door to a fatalism and determinism in which the events of our time and history were robbed of all genuine meaning.” (HCT 89) Human action is rendered insignificant and fate becomes inescapable as the future inexorably unfolds with relentless logic following an impersonal decree set by God at the beginning.

The fundamental error of identifying Providence with determinism is the de-personalization of the God-concept. Scripture rejects rigid determinism because the almighty power of the personal living God embraces freedom and responsibility of the creature] Continue reading “Reading: G.C. Berkouwer on Freedom and Divine Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 4/7”

Determinism Should not be Confused with Compulsion or Fatalism.

 

Robert Kane clears away several confusions that have led critics like libertarians and Arminians wrongly to reject compatibilism and Calvinistic on grounds that determinism negates freedom.

1. “Don’t confuse determinism with constraint, coercion, or compulsion.” Freedom is the opposite of constraint, coercion, and compulsion compatibilists insist; but it is not the opposite of determinism. Constraint, coercion, and compulsion act against our wills, preventing us from doing or choosing what we want. By contrast, determinism does not necessarily act against our wills; nor does it always prevent us from doing what we want. Causal determinism, to be sure, does mean that all events follow from earlier events in accordance with invariable laws of nature. But, say compatibilists, it is a mistake to think that laws of nature constrain us…But, in fact, the existence of laws of nature indicates only that certain events follow others according to regular patterns. To be governed by laws of nature is not to be in chains.

2. “Don’t confuse causation with constraint.” Compatibilists also insist that it is constraints, not mere causes of any kind, that undermine freedom. Continue reading “Determinism Should not be Confused with Compulsion or Fatalism.”

Compatibilism: Divine Permission and Human Action– Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 3/7

Providence is God’s work of sustaining creation and his sovereign, benevolent control of all things, guiding them toward their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature, all to the glory and praise of God.

It is widely held that humans are free to the extent that they are able to choose between alternative possibilities with equal ease. Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism) rejects this so-called “power of contrary choice” or the “liberty of indifference”, and contends that choice is not a matter of indifference; we always chose what we personally want. We also act in accordance to our nature, motives and desires. Our choices change under different circumstances, but ultimately they follow what appears to be the most compelling motive for the moment.

Since God by virtue of his omniscience knows exhaustively our motives, he is able to foreknow and foreordain (elicit) specific human choices under appropriate circumstances ordered through his meticulous providence. We act according to what God has foreknown; nevertheless our choices and actions which follow our strongest motives are voluntary since they are not coerced. That is to say, divine foreknowledge is compatible with voluntary human choice. Continue reading “Compatibilism: Divine Permission and Human Action– Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 3/7”

Models of Divine and Human Action in Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 2/7

The two main rivals of the doctrine of providence are deism and pantheism:
(1) Deism envisages God leaving creation alone, having endowed it with inherent powers to operate according to its inbuilt laws.
(2) Pantheism does not distinguish God from the world. Since God’s action or providence are identical with the course of nature, there is no independent or secondary causes in the outworking of creation.

[I am leaving out the philosophical theory of occasionalism, represented by Al-Ghazali (Muslim) and Malebranche (Christian) to keep the post simple, and so as not to burden some of my readers who may problems following complicated philosophical discussions. Occasionalism teaches that created beings are absolutely devoid of causal powers and all events are directly caused by God. God is directly, immediately and solely responsible for bringing about all phenomena.]

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) strikes a balance between these two rival positions in its article on the decrees of God.

God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3:1) Continue reading “Models of Divine and Human Action in Providence – Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Part 2/7”