October 29, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #2--Predestination vs. Free Will

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What do Baptists believe about predestination?

Great question! And especially from a teenager.

You can ask “What do Baptists believe about…” anything, and I can give you just about every answer under the sun. Since we have no centralized form of church government, and our agreed upon beliefs are somewhat general in areas that don't concern salvation, you can find a group of Baptists throughout history that have believed just about anything. There were Particular Baptists who were very Reformed in their beliefs, Free Will Baptists who are very Arminian in their beliefs, and everything in between.

So, instead of focusing on what Baptists believe, I’m going to change the question. Instead , how about we ask, “What does Scripture say about predestination?” That’s what matters most.

First, a definition of predestination, or election, as defined by Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: "An act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of anything they have done, but only because of God’s sovereign good pleasure." Basically, God chooses some people to be saved, and others to not be saved.

The question here is, "does God choose some people to be saved and not others; or, does everyone have an equal chance to be saved by their own choosing or rejection of God?" Are we predestined, or do we have free will?

There are two camps that people have historically fallen into. Those in the Calvinistic or Reformed camp have historically believed that God choses some for salvation, and that the rest are not chosen. Those who are in the Armenian or Free Will camp believe that everyone has an equal chance at salvation, and that our salvation depends only on our choosing or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The problem with these two camps is that they tend to move towards extremes…all or nothing.

Ecclesiastes 7:18 “It is good to grasp the on and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” So what do we believe?

Some verses:

  • Acts 13:48 “When the Gentiles heard this (the gospel) they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

  • Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

  • Ephesians 1:4-6 “For he (God) chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Jesus).”

But, what about free will?

Nowhere does Scripture say that we are “free” in the sense that we are out of God’s control. It just doesn’t say it. But, we are free in the greatest sense that any creature of God could be free. We get to make willing choices; choices that have real effects on the world around us. But, our choices are not outside of God’s control. If they were, then we would be equal to God in our will.

But, the question is in reference to our salvation. Can we freely choose to be saved by God through Christ without Him making the first move. Do we have true free will in that sense?

Why do we love God? Because he first loved us—1 John 4:19. Clearly, when it comes to our salvation, God makes the first move. In our completely sinful state, we have nothing good inside of us that would make us choose the goodness of God (Romans 3:10-12). On the other hand, we as humans have some responsibility to respond to the offer of the gospel.

This sounds like a cop-out answer…but here it is: predestination and human responsibility work together in a way that we don’t , can't or won't understand. We’ve been arguing about this for 2000 years, and we’re not going to solve it.

Some are predestined to salvation. It’s a pretty big eraser to take that word, predestined, out of the bible. And, humans have the responsibility of responding to the gospel. I don’t have to understand how it works to respond, believe and obey.

Since the question is “what do Baptists believe”, let me show you what our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message Says: Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

But doesn’t it make this useless to share the gospel if some are predestined? Not at all, because we don’t know who those people are. The Great Commission as spoken by Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. We must obey Jesus’ command.

2 Timothy 2:10 “Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." Paul knows that some will be saved and he sees this as an encouragement to preach the gospel.

Someone asked the follow-up question, "What about the verses that say 'Christ died for all' and 'God so loved the world...that whosoever believes'?" The reference is to 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and John 3:16-17. This gets into an area called "limited or definite atonement", and you can find a great explanation of that doctrine here. The question is did Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross pay for the sins of everyone, or only those who will be saved. That's another discussion for another day, and involves what Paul meant by the word "all"...as in "all believers" or "all people".

You can check out all of the Q and A series here as I post them, and tomorrow we'll look at whether God hears prayer when there is sin in our lives or not.


Brandon said...

Jay, I like the way you handled that question. I would like for you to cover the "all" wording. That's the question I get from my students and church members most of the time. Who does Christ's offer truly extend to, all or just the elect. I thought your answer was very straight forward; however, not as good as the Calvinist song some youth minister in Tuscaloosa I worked for used to sing. I cant remember his name...


humanivy said...

Ah, yes...my "Limited Atonement" praise song that I wrote. In my "Understanding Theology" class I teach on Wednesday nights, I have plans to pull that one out when we get to the doctrine of salvation...

"He died for me, but not for you." Classic.

Dane Conrad said...

I personally would also like to hear the Limited Atonement song - how about posting that audio?

Also, one of my favorite memories of English Lit grad school was a Professor Jim Sims (who my son is named after) who said in a class on Milton, something the effect of "You really don't want to try to think that all the way through - circular thinking . . . just sorta where faith comes in" The funny thing was he said it with a smile and a glint in his eye that disarmed any of the religious hard liners in the class and also the liberals from the creative writing branch of the English Dept's grad students.