In Search of a Coherent Narrative
Part 2: Arminianism’s Scriptural and Philosophical Problems
Part 4: Calvinism’sScriptural and Philosophical Problems
Part 5: A Biblical Universalism
Part 6: Biblical Support for Universalism
Part 5: A Biblical Universalism
Part 6: Biblical Support for Universalism
Photo by Darren Tunnicliff
Previously I discussed what an Arminian narrative or paradigm generally looked like. Ultimately, it emphasizes the concept of Freewill and denies the hand of God in ultimately choosing whom to save. God’s choice is a response to man’s choice.
Even though I do consider Arminianism still workable and honourable in many aspects, I still find it uncompelling concerning its ability to explain the scriptural revelation given to us by God. It also struggles to explain Biblical concepts in a philosophically coherent manner. In this next section, I will firstly take scripture as an example, and then cover some of the philosophical difficulties that Arminianism has with dealing with these scriptures. Many aspects of scripture come against the Arminian idea of Freewill and suggest that God through our surroundings determines who we are and what choices we make. The Bible contains many, many scriptures pertaining to God predestining and determining people’s lives. Aspects of our lives being determined can be a frightening concept, but is an idea that will be further addressed throughout this series.
For the mean time, here are some examples in the Bible suggesting that at least some parts of our lives are determined:
- Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
- Proverbs 16:4 “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”
- Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
- Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
- Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?”
- Proverbs 21:1-3 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
- Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
- John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
- Acts 4:28 “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
- Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
- Romans 9:11 “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls”
- Romans 8: 29-30 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
- Romans 9: 14 – 24 “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
- Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
- Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”
- 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”
- Revelation 17:8 “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.”
In Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:11 the Greek word for “predestine” is “proorizó”, which according to Strong’s concordance means “I foreordain, predetermine or mark out before-hand”. In verses like these, God gives a strong impression that He decides an outcome beforehand and makes it happen. Could it be that our destiny is decided before we have any say in the matter?
Not only does the Bible talk about predestination, but it also talks about God giving a measure of faith to people (Romans 12:3). However, strangely, in many other places God seems to attribute us the responsibility of generating faith, but as already mentioned, Romans suggests that our faith actually comes from God.
Proverbs is often clear about the outcomes of our plans actually being determined by God, even people’s hearts! Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It suggests that our surroundings (parents, in this instance) have a heavy influence on who we become. Conclusively, scripture expresses ideas that suggest that our wills are not as free as some would suppose.
Faced with these verses that threaten Freewill, Arminians sometimes try to get around the idea of predestination by attributing His choice of individuals to His foreknowledge, as found in the five points of Arminianism mentioned in the last section. Romans 8:29 is a key verse that provides us with a concept of foreknowledge along with predestination. If God merely knew beforehand (rather than predestined) who would choose to be saved and who would choose not to be, then this seems to enable our Freewill. That is, God supposedly predestines people’s salvation after His foreknowledge of their choice of outcome. However, there still seems to be several difficulties with placing foreknowledge before predestination in this manner, which will be my focus in the remainder of this section.
Arminian concept of God’s foreknowledge attempts to provide us with an ability to choose God before He chooses us. Yet, concerning this explanation, it falls apart when looked at more closely. Let me explain. I see that comprehensibly God can know the future by three possible ways:
- God foreknows the future because He is outside of time as we know it. God could view reality like a video and zip back and forward as He wills. Alternatively, He could see all time periods at once. Either way, from His perspective, the future is as if it has already happened.
- God set creation in motion like a wound up clock and can predict what will happen by observing everything according to a cause and effect (domino effect) scenario. Thus, God determines man’s “Freewill” through cause and effect.
- The future is predictable not because of cause and effect but because God creates and plans (in the present) every aspect, and does as He wishes. Thus, man’s will would be determined by God’s active involvement in the present moment.
The last two views violate Arminian Freewill because God would be the one who is micro managing processes and outcomes, even our wills. Arminians could go with the first explanation in order to keep man’s Freewill at the same time as God foreknowing who would be saved. The problem with this view is the emphasis on the future tense of “will be” or “would choose”. Arminianists say that God foreknows who would choose Him or who will choose Him, implying that the future has not happened yet. However, if God already knows the future, then surely it must have already happened, at least from His perspective. Otherwise, how could He know it? If that is true, then all of time must be knowledge to God – not foreknowledge.
In addition, if everything has already happened in the future, how then can God be involved within that future? If He did enter that timeline and intervened somehow, then the future must not yet have happened. However, if we accept that God can know the future without it already having happened, then we immediately enter one of the other two options mentioned earlier, where God creates or handles the very outcome of the future – ideas which go against the very grain of Arminianist thought.
Some people try to get around the idea of God being a deterministic sovereign Being, by saying that He does not know the future - the future is unpredictable. The future therefore is open to “possibilities”. This is called Open Theism. Arminianists could adopt this idea in order to “free up” Freewill as well as keeping God’s “choosing” abilities. However, I do not believe Open Theism is scriptural at all. The Bible is quite clear about God’s ability to know, predict or create the future. God’s predestining according to foreknowledge as expressed in Romans 8 would not be consistent in an Open Theist narrative, because He would have no knowledge of the future. The future is open to “possibilities” and cannot be foreknown.
Lastly, one could say that the people whom God chooses to be saved are not chosen on an individual basis but more on a hypothetical collective level. My question regarding this is where does God’s foreknowledge come into this perspective? If God had foreknowledge of the future people group who would choose Him, then surely He must have had foreknowledge of the individuals who would make up that people group that He predestined. Thus thinking of predestination as a hypothetical group of people does not answer how the people within that group actually become a part of that group, and in my opinion does not provide a leg for Freewill ideas to stand on (Romans 8:29).
Arminianism Freewill not only tries to 'free up' our choices, but ultimately tries to attribute the existence of evil to man. However, if God foreknows the future as well as allows man the freedom to choose good or evil, it still leaves God with the responsibility of allowing evil to happen. James 4:17 states that even the act of choosing not to do good and thus allowing evil to happen, is a form of sin. This implies that if God is able to change the future and does not do so, then He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.
This then leads to questions that we can ask of God as to why He actively allowed evil to happen, especially when He had foreknowledge of it. If God knows who will be saved and who will not be, then why bother creating people in the first place who will suffer eternity without Him? Does their existence simply suggest that God values Freewill, by providing an example of evil that the rest are saved from? These questions lead to concepts that some Calvinists have, such as God directly creating people for heaven and for hell. However, Arminianist thought opposes these ideas, because it would mean that God chose to create a situation for evil to exist (even though they still say that He had foreknowledge that evil would definitely exist). Thus, foreknowledge does not truly get God “off the hook” when it comes to creating evil - God actively allows evil to happen, especially because He foresaw it.
In conclusion, the Arminian concept of Freewill does not have a monopoly on scriptural verses that point towards it. Many contradict it, in fact. In addition, the concept of God’s foreknowledge enabling man’s Freewill does not actually work. It fails on multiple levels, such as failing to attribute the author of sin to us, failing to provide a way for God to choose us after we chose Him and therefore failing to provide an answer as to how humankind chooses redemption or not.