The Vicarious Death Of Jesus

Vicarious Atonement

In their efforts to refute Calvinism, some are willing to deny that Jesus died vicariously, or in our stead, as the word indicates. In running away from Calvinism, it is not necessary to reject the substitutional death that the Bible, in Isaiah 53 (and other places), so clearly says Jesus suffered on our behalf. But this is what some Christians are doing.

The quotes that immediately follow are taken from separate articles written by two different Christians. I’m not naming the source for either, for it is not the who but the what that I wish to concentrate on. The first quote says:

In the sense of the substitution theory [this is what he calls the vicarious death of Jesus—AT], if Jesus, when He died on the cross, removed God’s wrath against sin, satisfied divine justice, paid all our debt in our place, took our punishment for sin upon himself, became guilty with our guilt, was cursed in our stead, then Jesus has already done it all in our place. How can we be charged with anything if Jesus has already done it all? If Jesus has already taken my punishment upon himself, then I do not have to worry because my punishment was removed 2000 years ago! I cannot be held accountable for what I have done because my substitute has already taken that on himself and removed any responsibility from me!

The second quote reads exactly like the first, with the exception of the final sentence, which says, “The only conclusion that can be reached from the substitution position is universal salvation….or Calvinist limited atonement!” (Italics are in the original—AT.) This second brother went on to say the following in the very next paragraph:

Some will insist that they do not believe in either universal salvation or limited atonement but believe in substitution anyway. But, they don’t realize what they are saying. The Bible teaches that we must do something to have our sins removed, Mark 16:15, 16, Acts 2:38. We are righteous even as He is righteous if we do righteousness, 1 John 3:7, and are acceptable with God if we work righteousness, Acts 10:34, 35. We can escape the punishment of hell but must obey God to do so, Matthew 25:32-46. We must obey God in order to enter Heaven, Matthew 7:21-27. The very fact that we must do all these things in order to have our sins removed, be righteous and escape punishment for sin demonstrates that the substitution theory is human error and not truth. Some will say they believe in the necessity of human obedience and substitution as well. Again, they don’t know what they are saying. Human obedience and the substitution theory are contradictions. This is why Calvinism virtually removes any such human effort from the process. Limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the impossibility of apostasy of Calvinism are the direct results of the substitution theory. Baptist doctrine demonstrates the same things; God provides the faith and grace, once saved you can’t be lost and the number is limited to those to whom God gives the grace. And why not, if Jesus has already done everything in our place? What is there for us to do?

I wanted to include these quotes to let the reader know that I’m not constructing straw men here. It isn’t difficult to see that these two brothers reject the vicarious death of Jesus. That is, although they know He died in order to pay the price for our redemption, they nevertheless make it absolutely clear that they reject, as gross error, the idea that Jesus died in our stead. And they do so, once again, to refute that ol’ Calvinism bugaboo. Calvinism certainly needs to be rejected; but in doing so, one must not reject what the Bible teaches on this or any other subject.

Rejecting The Either-Or Argument

I reject the premise that if one believes in the vicarious death of Jesus, one must either accept universalism or Calvinism, for such an “either-or” assumption is simply not a valid scriptural point. The Bible teaches neither of these, and I reject them both. Furthermore, I will trust what the Bible actually says rather than what these brethren are trying to tell me it says. As I’ve already indicated, I will argue, from Isaiah 53 and other passages, that Jesus did, in fact, die in our stead. And although both these aforementioned brothers castigate those who hold “the substitution theory” for coming under the influence of human reasoning and denominational think-sos, I believe it is their own thinking that reflects such enslavement. For example, in Galatians 3:13, Paul wrote, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” Then, in 1 Peter 2:24, we are told that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree [i.e., the cross].” Do not these passages, when coupled with Isaiah 53, convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died in our stead? Why, then, must I, in order to be thought sound in the faith, believe that Jesus didn’t die in my place?

Truth is, I don’t, and the convoluted logic and attempted exegeses of these two brothers changes nothing. Man seems to always get into trouble with the human analogies he tries to appropriate to God. God is not a man. Therefore, the limitations of our human analogies cannot apply across the board to Him. When we try to make them do so, we are engaged in what the Bible calls idolatry.

I am not a universalist; nor am I a Calvinist. I am, instead, a Christian who believes what God has said in His word about who and what He is, whether I can fully understand it or not. This is true even when I can’t seem to find a human analogy that completely applies to Him. One must be very careful about such things, for God and His thoughts are infinite and, therefore, so far above us and how we think (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9) that it is just impossible for us to know everything about Him. Yes, there is plenty to know about God, but there is still plenty more that we simply do not, and cannot, know (cf. Romans 11:33 and compare it with Job 26:14).

Partly Right, But Still Very Wrong

What do I mean by the above subtitle? Simply this: Yes, Jesus was the perfect-Lamb-without-blemish sacrifice offered up for us on the cross of Calvary, as the Scriptures clearly teach. Consequently, while it is perfectly acceptable for one to preach and teach that Jesus paid the price for our sins because He was the perfectly sinless blood sacrifice for our sins, serving as the means to our redemption, it is, nevertheless, important to understand that this imagery does not fully exhaust God’s description of this sacrifice.

For instance, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul said, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Now, the critics of the idea that Jesus died vicariously or in our place have called “nonsense” the idea that this passage, along with others, is teaching that Jesus actually took upon Himself our sins, paying in full the price for our pardon by being “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Thus, I find it disturbing that some Christians have taken to calling “nonsense” anything taught in God’s word that they happen to disagree with, whether it is this issue or some other, like the controversy over the days of Creation, or the brouhaha that manifested itself a decade or so ago over the deity-humanity of Jesus.

For example, the idea that God actually created the Universe in something approaching 144 hours is considered by some among us to be silly or ridiculous, as it contradicts the “Science” of our day. Likewise, the idea that Jesus could have been 100% God and 100% man while here on this earth was clearly thought by some among us to be absolute “nonsense.” But these ideas aren’t silly or nonsensical at all. In fact, they represent accurately the six-day creation taught in the Scriptures and the fully God-fully man Jesus described in the New Testament. Consequently, I don’t like it one bit when I hear Christians calling nonsense, silly, or ridiculous things I can clearly read about in the Bible.

But if there were anything inherent in the vicarious death concept I believe to be taught in the Bible that demanded universalism or Calvinism, as some are wrongly claiming, then I would, no doubt, have some interest in the semantical gymnastics they engage in to “prove” that it can’t be true. But when one of these argues that a particular interpretation of a pertinent passage that appears to teach that Jesus died vicariously can’t be interpreted that way because it has already been demonstrated that the doctrine isn’t true, when he has, in fact, done no such thing, just makes me shake my head in disbelief that a brother in Christ would stoop to making such a statement—a statement that, ironically, is to be taken, ipse dixit, as an argument for precisely why the doctrine isn’t true.

Asking A Difficult Question

Those who take the position that Jesus did not die vicariously are known to ask this supposed hard question: “To whom do you think the ransom price for our sins was paid?” If you say to God, which they wrongly think is the incorrect answer, they make reference to Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the 11th century, was the first one to introduce the idea that the ransom or satisfaction was paid by Christ not to Satan, but to God. Then, we are quickly informed, the Reformers compounded Anselm’s error by adding to it the idea that Jesus actually took the place of sinners in the sight of God and, as their substitute, suffered the punishment that was due them, including the sufferings of Hell. Upon Him, it is claimed these Reformers taught, fell all the punishment of all the sins of all the men for whom He died. Consequently, it was further argued that these Reformers believed that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, penal justice could have no further claim. As a result, the so-called Substitution Theory was cross connected with the five points of Calvin, standing on the two legs of the imputation of our sins to Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to us.

To this I simply say, “So what!” What Anselm thought, or what the Reformers believed, is not really all that important to me, and I don’t mean anything overtly disrespectful when I say this. What I believe about Jesus’ vicarious death is based on what I can read in the Bible, not the philosophies and think-sos of men, be they Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, or even Thomas and Alexander Campbell. But what I can read in the Bible is very important to me, and I can read in the Bible much about Jesus’ vicarious death.

“But That’s Not Even In The Bible,” They Argue

Someone retorts: “But vicarious isn’t even in the Bible. Why then are you trying to defend it?” But the fact that the actual word isn’t used in the Scriptures doesn’t mean the concept or idea is not taught there. For instance, where is the term “triune nature” found in the Bible? It isn’t, but this does not mean that the idea isn’t taught within its pages, and most Bible students acknowledge this. But to charge me, or anyone else, with bowing down to the dictates of the First Council of Nicaea because I believe in the triune nature of God is simply uncalled for. Why, then, should brethren who accuse me of believing and teaching something that is false because the word I’m using to identify it isn’t found in the Bible expect my opinion of them to remain unquestioned when they resort to such tactics?

If I didn’t have any other teaching but Isaiah 53, I would still believe Jesus was the divinely ordained sin-bearer. I would still believe that the iniquity of us all was, in fact, laid upon Him by the Father. I would still believe that He was wounded for our transgressions because God loved us that much. And finally, I would still believe that Jesus bore the sins of us all because God ordained it. However, when one adds to this the many passages that teach this very same idea, then I think I have every reason to believe in the vicarious death of Jesus, namely, that He died in my stead, paying the price that was owed for my sins, and not mine only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

This brings us full circle to this idea of Jesus being the “propitiation for our sins,” and how it is in this truth that we are so confident of our salvation—not just now, but in the future, as well. Consequently, we’ll have more to say about this in the next post in this series.

Ransomed, Purchased, Reconciled, And Redeemed

Jesus Paid It All

Both Jew and Gentile “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, KJV). Both are rconciled in one body through the cross (cf. Eph. 2:16a). This is the reconciliation that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” The word of reconciliation is the gospel, which, when obeyed, permits the one rendering obedience to it to be reconciled to God first, and then, as Paul pointed out in the previous verses, to other men, and this regardless of their race, sex, or social status (cf. Gal. 3:28). This reconciliation is in the “one body” of Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18, which could not have existed without the work Jesus did for us on the cross, “thereby putting to death the enmity” (Eph 2:16b). How? “By His grace through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26). Through the cross of Christ sin has been properly dealt with, thus demonstrating that God, even in forgiving our sins, remains, Himself, just. Through the cross of Christ, the penalty for our sins was paid by Jesus on our behalf (cf. Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim 2:6). It is in this way, and this way only, that God remains just while acting as the justifier of all us sinners who exercise faith in His Son. Miss this and you’ll not understand the atonement as God intended for it to be understood.

Ode To The Unknown God (Conclusion)

Chickens Roosting

Today, our theological chickens are coming home to roost. As such, we are in the process of creating idols for our own destruction (cf. Hosea 8:4). If we don’t repent, we will be destroyed for our ignorance of God’s Word (cf. Hosea 4:6).

As the Lord’s own unique and special people, poised, as we are, in the second decade of the 21st century, we will either reject, resist, and repent of these destructive heresies, or we will be “cut off.” As free moral agents, the choice is ours. None of us is immune.

Therefore, self-examination is not out of order for anyone, even the most devout Christian. Remember, whatever is on the throne, whatever controls one’s life, is his idol. It may be “mammon” (Matthew 6:24); it may be personal pleasure (cf. Philippians 3:19); it may be one’s work or family; it may be drugs; it may be “omnipotent,” “infallible” science; or it may be just SELF (cf. Daniel 5:23). Whatever it is, it must be abandoned.

Finally, when we do our theology (i.e., out thinking about God), we must be care not to be creating the sham gods of orthotalksy.

Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (Joshua 24:14-16).

Ode To The Unknown God (IX)

The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There

The God Who Must Be Either Here Or There

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

Looking at the title of this post, you might be thinking, “Who among us could believe such a thing?” Well, if my experiences are indicative of brotherhood norms, then there are more than a few New Testament Christians who think this way. But before proceeding further, I want to make it clear that I do not think my fellow Christians who think this way are intentionally trying to create a sham god. Absolutely not! Nevertheless, this is what they do when they argue that the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every obedient believer could only be accomplished by either a fragmented or multi-located Holy Spirit. By this they mean that if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every Christian is actual, rather than “only in and through the Word,” as they are wont to say, then this could only be accomplished by either breaking (or dividing into pieces) the Holy Spirit, or by means of a multi-located Holy Spirit (i.e., a Holy Spirit that could be in more than one place at the same time, an idea they think is absurd). One who takes this position accused me of believing that “the Holy Spirit is scattered, one-to-a-believer, into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” Of course, this caricature does not represent what I believe, as such would be polytheism, pure and simple. But it does represent the kind of maneuvering that goes on in the minds of those who think God is somehow limited by space.

As I’ve pointed out time and again in this study, the one true God is infinite in His characteristics and attributes. This means He is not restricted by any external limitations, which does not include, of course, those internal limitations He may place on Himself or which are due to His nature. Therefore, this infinitude is defined by God’s self-existence, eternalness and omni-characterictics, which are omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. If we, in our theological surmisings, try to take any of these away from Him, then we honor a god who could no longer be the God of the Bible. Instead, he (and I’ve purposely dropped the capitalization here) becomes just another of the sham gods of orthotalksy.

Why then do otherwise faithful, intelligent Christians engage in such shenanigans? I don’t know all the reasons, but in some cases, at least, they think themselves to be defending the faith once and for all delivered1 against whatever false “ism” they happen to be zeroing in on at the moment. This means they never see themselves as anything else but faithful to the Lord and His Word. In reference to the Holy Spirit, this “ism” is most often Pentecostalism. As one who has taught and helped to convert many Pentecostals, I certainly understand the many errors associated with it. But when one thinks he is defending the faith by denigrating the characteristics and attributes of God, then it seems to me that these folks have involved themselves in an equally terrible delusion. Yes, Pentecostals are wrong about the Holy Spirit, seemingly unable to decide whether He’s a “He” or an “it.” They fail to distinguish between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They readily misappropriate passages to teach that all Christians are to be directly guided by the Holy Spirit. They believe the miraculous manifestations (“gifts”) of the Spirit are continuing today, even after that which is perfect has come—that is, the completed Word of God.2 There are, in fact, a whole host of errors associated with Pentecostalism. But to diminish God’s infinitude in the name of fighting Pentecostalism is a gross error that causes one, however unintentionally, to imbibe idolatry.

Theologians have argued that “God, in the totality of his essence, without diffusion or expansion, multiplication or division, penetrates and fills the universe in all its parts.”3 Although I do not feel the need to defend anyone’s theological construct but my own (and I am aware that my thinking could itself be in error), I do think this quote accurately represents the nature of omnipresence as set forth in the Bible.4 However, I wish to make it understood that I totally reject the idea of Pantheism, a concept that says everything is God and God is everything (i.e., that the material universe somehow makes up the very fabric of God). I make this disclaimer because several over the years have accused me of being a pantheist. More than likely, these charges were made by those who have never even talked to or, what’s more, helped convert a pantheist. Unfortunately, pantheism is a terribly wrong concept that presently enslaves more than a billion people, and I feel blessed to have taught and helped to convert more than a few pantheists. No, the uncreated, self-existent, eternal Creator is not some pantheistic everything. He does not consist of that which He has created. Instead, He stands above and beyond that which He’s created. Consequently, the transcendent God is not limited by the space-time continuum and is not, therefore, a spatial being (viz., He transcends all spatial limitations).

All Created Beings Are Spatial Creatures

Space, like time, is a product of creation. Therefore, all created beings are spatial creatures. This means that both the material and spiritual dimensions are spatial, though not necessarily in the same way. Although spiritual “space” is obviously not like material space, each of these dimensions must, by nature of their creation, have spatial limitations. Consequently, space of some sort is characteristic of all created beings.

The material universe of which we humans are a part is three-dimensional space. Our bodies themselves are spatial and, therefore, limited by the three-dimensional boundaries of space. Included in these limitation are the following: a material body can exist in only one space at a time; to get from one space to another, a material body must pass through the intervening space. This means that given the limitations of three dimensional space, it is impossible, when we factor in the fourth dimension of time, for a material body to occupy two different spaces at the same time.

In contrast to this, and evidently at the same time, fully spiritual creatures, such as angels and demons, do not normally occupy our space, as we do.5 Therefore, it can be safely concluded that these spiritual creatures are not restricted by the limitations of three-dimensional space, as we are. Nevertheless, as created beings, they have their own spatial dimension, with whatever limits that exist there. As I don’t occupy that dimension, I can’t tell you what it is like, but that this dimension exists is evident from Scripture. Further, the Bible teaches that when these spiritual creatures interact with material space, they are not totally outside its limits. For example, a spiritual creature, although he can evidently act multi-dimensional, can still only be in one space at a time. This is illustrated by the angelic appearance recorded in Daniel 10. The prophet Daniel had been “mourning” (which clearly included praying) for “three full weeks” (verse 2). When the angel appeared, he said:

Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.6

He went on to say, “Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come” (verse 14).

So, when interacting with our material dimension, this angel could not be in two places at the same time. He had been sent to answer Daniel and make known to him what would happen to his people in the future, but the “prince of Persia” (evidently another spiritual entity) withstood him for “twenty-one days.” The struggle was so intense that Michael (another spiritual creature) had to come and help him. Then, after administering to Daniel, he still needed to return and “fight” with the prince of Persia, knowing that the “prince of Greece” would eventually be involved (verse 20).

It is clear from Scripture, then, that a spiritual creature cannot occupy more than one space at a time. This means that spiritual beings (angels and demons) are not omnipresent. Satan himself cannot be everywhere at once and therefore uses other spiritual entities to represent his interests around the world.

What all this means, as I’ve said before, is that created beings, whether they be spiritual or material, are spatial beings. But in complete contrast to His creation, God, the uncreated Creator, is not a spatial being. He is unlimited by space and is, in fact, transcendent by means of His infinitude. The traditional word for this is immensity. However, because this word has come to mean “very large in size,” one must be very careful to exclude this connotation when speaking of God.

God is not immensely large, so as to fill all of space, even to infinity. Such thinking would be totally false and is manifested in Pantheism. The word itself literally means unmeasurable, not because God is too large to measure, but because, as a non-spatial being, He is not the kind of Being that can be measured. The term simply means that God is not limited by space. As such, all the limitations of space—extension, location and distance—simply do not apply to Him.

Therefore, God is universally present to all of space at all times. This does not mean, however, that He is dispersed throughout the infinite reaches of space, so that every part of space has at least a little part of God. God is not present in all of space, which is pantheism; instead, He is present to all of space. This means that the unlimited God in His whole Being is present at every point of our space. Perhaps a better way of saying this is to say that all space is immediately present before God. Personally, I don’t care how you look at this as long as you understand that the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is not limited by space, as are His creatures.

Now, before going further, it is important to point out that I do not believe everyone who disagrees with me on the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the body of every obedient believer is engaged in idolatry. Certainly not! I have fellowship with those who think the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only in and through the word. In fact, I believe it fair to say that the majority of brethren I have associated with over the years believe this way. They could be right, although I do not think so. Nevertheless, neither the integrity of God nor His Word (viz., the Holy Scriptures) suffers from such a conclusion, and as long as my fellow Christians do not withdraw from me due to my position, then I expect continued fellowship with those who disagree with me on this compelling subject. But my humble opinion, for those who haven’t quite figured it out yet, is that the Holy Spirit actually dwells in the physical bodies of Christians.7

However, when some, in order to defend their position that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian only in and through the Word, begin to make God in man’s image, subject to the same limitations as the creatures He created, I wish to make it clear that such are engaged in idolatry. In my opinion, there is no excuse for such thinking. Nevertheless, teachers of God’s Word, seemingly without any embarrassment at all, make all sorts of spatial-limiting arguments for why it is supposedly impossible for the Holy Spirit to actually and equally occupy all the bodies of all obedient believers.

I believe at least some of the reasons for this is that, unfortunately, many Christians today have drunk deeply at the humanist-materialist well. These give lip-service to omnipresence, but then define it in such a way as to effectively deny it. This is, as I’ve said, nothing but orthotalksy. If God is omnipresent, then don’t expect me to be impressed by arguments that claim He can’t be in more than one place at a time, and if He were, He’d be divided into pieces (or clones) of Himself. This is not just poppycock, but is a manifestation of unbelief, and anyone who claims to be a teacher of God’s Word while making such a claim ought to be ashamed of himself.

It needs to be understood that God’s omnipresence does not prevent Him from manifesting Himself in a localized place. In fact, while it is true that His ontological Being is present to all of space equally, He has, at various times and for various reasons, entered space at specific points and become present in it. These “theophanies,” as they are called, most often involved redemption. There was, for instance, the account of God’s presence in the garden of Eden “in the cool of the evening.”8 There was His appearance before the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.9 Of course, the most dramatic case of God entering time and space was the Incarnation itself.10 But, and this point needs to be clearly understood, in entering time and space, God, in His self-existent, eternal and infinite Being, did not cease to be omnipresent. He was, while existing as Jesus of Nazareth, still present to every point of space and was, in fact, holding everything together by the “word of His power.”11 With this in mind, it seems evident that the omnipresence of Immanuel or “God with us” is the real subject of John 3:13, which says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of God who is in heaven.”

I’ve heard people say they didn’t know what this passage was saying, but they knew it couldn’t mean what folks like me think it means. This isn’t exactly cogent exegesis, if you ask me. Nevertheless, some among us are confident that the ontological presence of the Word, who was Himself God, could not be on earth, in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and be in heaven at the same time. I suppose it could be that this difficult passage is not saying what I think it’s saying, but the teacher of God’s Word who claims that it “can’t be” is clearly not taking into consideration the omnipresence of Jehovah’s ontological Being—a Being not limited by time and space. Yes, I know the concept is mind-boggling, but such is, I believe, characteristic of the magnificent nature of Almighty God. When contemplating the nature of God, it is not detrimental to have our minds boggled a bit.

It has been my experience that when one moves off of center on a particular Bible subject, he’s probably off on something else as well. Why? Because the Word of God, which is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”12 is a palliative against false doctrine. If we take a wrong position on something, we can be sure other passages will confront our wrong interpretation and, if we are amenable, they will surely correct our error. However, when we come to a conclusion that a particular interpretation is right, and we are unwilling to be corrected, convinced beyond all doubt that our position is the right one, we will surely have to misinterpret and misapply other passages that impinge our belief. In other words, the Word of God, if we will let it, when properly understood and believed, will make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”13 The starting point for all this is, of course, Genesis 1:1. Failing to grasp the implications here will surely cause us to misunderstand some critical aspects of the nature of both God and His creation. Therefore, it behooves us to spend a little time thinking about the implications of Genesis 1:1.

On the basis of creation texts such as Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22-23, it can be argued that time, at least physical time, had a “beginning.” In fact, Genesis 1:1, which is neither a subordinate clause nor a summary title, says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” According to James Barr, this was an absolute beginning which, when taken with the expression, “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (verse 5), indicates this was, in fact, the very first day, which may well be intended to teach that “the beginning” was not just the beginning of the physical universe, but the beginning of time itself and that, therefore, God may be thought of as timeless.14 In this statement, Barr appears to reflect what Jude said so succinctly: “To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen.”15 When this is coupled with Proverbs 8:22-23, which clearly looks back to “the beginning,” it can be fairly said that the Old Testament implies that time started at the beginning. Add to this Jude’s statement mentioned above, along with John 1:1-3, which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” and it seems clear that the Bible teaches the beginning of the creation was not just the beginning of space and matter, but it was the beginning of time as well.

If all this is true, and I think there is not much doubt about it, then the Creator, at least before He created, was neither subject to time (i.e., He was timeless) nor space. In addition, as the immortal and eternal God,16 He did not, indeed He could not, consist of the material nature (matter) of His creation. He was, in fact, totally other (i.e., transcendent). All this stands in stark contrast with creation, which by virtue of its creation owes its existence to something outside itself (viz., God). It is in this regard that we are said to live, move and have our being in the Creator.17 How, then, are some New Testament Christians able to claim that God is somehow limited by space or time?

It is only God, by virtue of who He is, who is free from the constraints of the space-time continuum. And it should be clear that the God who is not so free can never be anything more than one of the small “g” gods of orthotalksy. It is simply not possible that the one true God can be divided or torn asunder, and anyone who thinks so, no matter what position on the Holy Spirit he defends, is not honoring the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures. It is impossible for the omnipresent God to be “scattered…into thousands, perhaps millions, of fully functional, self-contained, independent units, each one the perfect clone of all the others.” In fact, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible is a God who could make Himself known in a million simultaneous theophanies and still be present to all the rest of creation at the same time. He could indwell a multitude of Christians equally, and all at the same time, without diminishing Himself in the least. He can do all this not because He is a spirit, but because He is God, the uncreated Spirit, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.”18

Christians, particularly those who teach God’s Word, must not transfer to God any of the creaturely limitations. As the Creator, He is simply not subject to them. Along these lines, it is interesting to me that modern science, which hasn’t always been especially friendly to the Creator, has started to bow in His direction. Although I believe “big bang” cosmology to be inconsistent with the Biblical account of creation, and therefore wrong, nevertheless, it is most interesting to hear scientists conclude that time and space came into existence at “the beginning” of the universe. The British physicist, Paul Davies, typifies what I’m talking about:

If we extrapolate this prediction to its extreme, we reach a point when all distances in the universe have shrunk to zero. An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event, the creation not only of all the matter and energy of the universe, but also of spacetime itself.19

Others, addressing this same thing, assert: “At this singularity, space and time came into existence, literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated as such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.”20

This aspect of current cosmological theory is especially troubling for some scientists, particularly those with atheistic beliefs. For example, the Russian astrophysicist, Andrei Linde, acknowledges, rather candidly, the problem that such a model poses for him: “The most difficult aspect of this problem is not the existence of the singularity itself, but the question of what was before the singularity…. This problem lies somewhere at the boundary between physics and metaphysics.”21

Sounds to me like Fred Hoyle’s old “steady-state” theory (viz., an eternal universe) with its well-known dictum Exnihilo, nihil fit (“Out of nothing, nothing comes”) has finally bitten the dust. As philosopher William Lane Craig says, “The steady state model has been abandoned by virtually everyone.”22

So, the theory most scientists subscribe to today is the big bang model, especially the inflationary version. Again, I am not arguing that this theory is correct. In fact, I totally reject the 15 billion years this theory postulates for the universe. I mention it here because it argues that the expanding universe necessarily had a beginning, and that it did not begin to expand into already existing space, but that it was space itself—which prior to the big bang had not existed—that was expanding outwards, with the alleged cosmic expansion creating space as it went along.

Now, if scientists who are limited, in the things they do, to the material creation—although it is true they don’t always act like they are—can understand the universe had a beginning, and that such a creation would have to be created ex nihilo or “out of nothing,” then I should think that modern-day Christians who are, generally speaking, the best educated the world has ever known, should not fail to understand the profound implications of such a creation: namely, that the Creator is over and above time, space and all finite reality, and can no more be confined to space than He can be measured by time.

It is inescapable that if something exists now, one of three things must be true of it: (1) it is either eternal, (2) it is created by something that is eternal, or (3) it is self-created. The first option is ruled out by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since an eternal universe would have wound down or dissipated a long time ago. The third clashes not only with the First Law of Thermodynamics, but with logic’s Law of Contradiction, because in order to have created itself, the universe would have had to exist before it existed, an idea that is scientifically and philosophically ridiculous. This leaves only the second option, and the God extolled in this series satisfies all the necessary criteria of such a Creator. Natural revelation, when properly interpreted, points at a Being whose existence explains why science can explain anything, but why it cannot explain everything. As the famous and erudite Mr. Stephen Hawking has said about the big bang theory, “It would be difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us.”23 Commenting on this, William Lane Craig wrote:

Since everything that began to exist has a cause of its existence, and since the universe began to exist, we conclude, therefore, that the universe has a cause of existence. We ought to ponder long and hard over this truly remarkable conclusion, for it means that transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo…. This conclusion ought to stagger us, ought to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder at the knowledge that our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it.24

Finally, the high-profile astronomer, Robert Jastrow, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an article in the New York Times, asked the question: “Have Astronomers Found God?” His answer was that they had, or had at least come close to doing so. After arguing that the universe had a beginning in time, and after accepting that its creation by an act of God was a reasonable possibility [Jastrow is a professed agnostic], he went on to point out that astronomical evidence points to a theistic view of the world: “The details differ, but the essential elements…are the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”25

His final words in this article were quite appropriate to our study:

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians…. We scientists did not expect to find evidence for an abrupt beginning because we have had until recently such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time…. At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.26

Brethren, let us “act like men”27 in the midst of a lost and dying world.28 Let us determine to know and proclaim the Rock who is our salvation.29 As we do so, let us forever put away from us the sham gods of orthotalksy.


Notes

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  1. See Jude 3.
  2. See 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
  3. See Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Creator, pages 264-273.
  4. See Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; 1 Kings 8:27.
  5. See Jude 6.
  6. Daniel 10:12-13.
  7. See 1 Corinthians 3:19 and 3:16-17.
  8. Genesis 3:8ff.
  9. See Exodus 33:9; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10ff.
  10. See John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16.
  11. Hebrews 1:3; see also Colossians 1:17.
  12. 2 Timothy 3:16f.
  13. 2 Timothy 3:17.
  14. James Barr, Biblical Words for Time, 1962, pages 145-147.
  15. Jude, ASV of 1901.
  16. See Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 1:17.
  17. See Acts 17:28.
  18. See 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 25.
  19. “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology and Black Hole Evaporation,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J.T. Fraser, N. Lawrence, and D. Park, 1978, pages 78-79.
  20. John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, 1986, page 442.
  21. “The Inflationary Universe,” Reports on Progress in Physics 47, 1984, page 976.
  22. Reasonable Faith, page 103.
  23. A Brief History of Time, page 140.
  24. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, page 149..
  25. June 25, 1978.
  26. Ibid.
  27. 1 Corinthians 16:13.
  28. See Philippians 2:15.
  29. See 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:7.

Ode To The Unknown God (VIII)

Jesus: Fully God, Fully Man

The God Who Can Cease Being God

If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (John 3:12-13).

The ruckus that took place among Christians over the Deity of Jesus is all the evidence needed to prove that some Christians actually believe that God can cease being God. That there are brethren who believe that the Divine Logos, in order to become a man,1 divested Himself of His Divinity and Godhood cannot be doubted. Although one who had very publicly espoused this view has now acknowledged his error, nevertheless, there are others who still believe it. It is my firm conviction that this issue is one of the most serious threats to the integrity of Christianity that has raised its ugly head once again now in the modern era. Consequently, it has troubled me that many Christians consider the whole controversy over the Deity of Jesus to be a preacher squabble about a subject that is just not all that important. Brethren, Jesus clearly said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”2 When He said this, He was not arguing for His humanity. On the contrary, He was saying that if one did not believe in His Deity, he could not go to heaven. The apostle John identifies this as the spirit of “Anti-christ.”3 Therefore, the question over the Deity of Jesus is not a “tempest in a teapot” issue. Where you and I will spend eternity depends upon getting this answer right!

For Christianity to be what it is, there are two cardinal tenets that cannot be tampered with: (1) the Incarnation of God’s Son, and (2) the triune nature of the Godhead. If Jesus Christ is, in fact, the eternal, divine Word of God the Father, and if the unity of God is taken seriously,4 then a plurality of persons within the Godhead is a fact that cannot be denied. In fact, if it had not been for the Incarnation, the truth about the triune nature of God would have never arisen. Hence, the truth about the Deity of Jesus and the Godhead are necessarily interconnected doctrines of the Christian faith. If one were to refute either of these doctrines, then Christianity would be shown to be nothing more than an elaborately devised sham. So, when one, for whatever reason, begins to argue that God the Son divested His Godhood and Divinity and became just a man, he has become, whether he thinks so or not, an enemy of the faith. Undoubtedly, an intrinsically human Jesus is nothing more than a sham god. When those who have created this gelded god then turn around and proclaim to believe in his Deity, they are engaged in orthotalksy.

Those among us who argue for a totally human Jesus (with Deity divested) are reflecting the influence of process theology, which proudly asserts that the classical two-natures doctrine of Jesus presupposes concepts that are outdated, absurd, and totally irrelevant to the modern way of thinking. According to the Processians, Jesus as the God-man is a concept that must go because it is not possible for the sophisticated, enlightened mind to believe the impossibly absurd idea that two entities (God and man) can occupy the same space at the same time. In other words, when viewed as substances, Deity cannot possibly unite with humanity without creating the displacement of one substance by the other. One can be God, or one can be man, but one cannot be both God and man simultaneously. Processians love to talk about the “havoc” wreaked by the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was both fully God and fully man at the same time. This is, of course, precisely the same idea being expressed by some brethren today who scoff at the idea that Jesus could be 100% God and 100% man without being a 200% monstrosity. Therefore, when I listen to or read after these brethren, I want to ask, “Will the real Processians among us please stand up?”

Given the nature of God, there is no chance that He can ever be anything other that what He is. This can be inferred from His self-existent, eternal, and infinite nature. His nature or essence cannot change, but is eternally the same, incorruptible5 and immortal6. In other words, He is unchangeable or immutable.7 What does this mean? It means that the Self-Existent One cannot be not self-existent; it means that the Eternal One cannot be not eternal; it means that the Infinite One cannot be not infinite; et cetera. God, ontologically speaking (i.e., by the nature of His being), cannot be anything else; if He were, He would not be God.

Included in God’s unchangeable or immutable nature are His moral attributes, for His moral character is no less a part of His essence than are His power and wisdom. What this means is that God has always been, and always will be, the holy, righteous and gracious God that He is right at this moment. His goodness has not been developed and it will never be altered. From everlasting to everlasting, He is the same in character, infallible and immutable.8

Of course, it must be kept in mind that the immutability of God’s nature does not mean that He cannot interact with His creation. As was pointed out previously, the Bible teaches that the Almighty has agreed to, and does, interact with His creation in the now of time. Such interaction is genuine and not pretended. God has agreed to be influenced by His creation. Whether or not I can explain this in view of God’s immutable nature is not the point. I cannot even understand it; how, then, can I explain it? In truth, it is not my responsibility to explain it; it is, instead, my responsibility to believe, teach, and defend it. If I had to be able to understand and explain everything about God, especially those things He has not chosen to reveal to me, before I could believe in Him, I and every other finite creature could have no choice but to remain in unbelief.

It is not possible that the essence of God could be anything other than what it has been, is, and always will be. If this essence were to change, then God would no longer be God. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to make distinctions between God, His essence and His attributes. “I Am that I Am” or “He who is”9 exists as a self-existent,10 eternal,11 infinite,12 immutable13 Spirit14. If He ceased to be any of these, He could not be God. God’s essence (i.e., that which makes Him what He is) could not be anything other than what it is; and that which makes God what He is, of course, is His attributes. Therefore, it is never correct to think of God apart from His essence or attributes. This means that God does not have an essence; He is His essence, and He does not have attributes; He is His attributes.

For example, the Bible tells us that God is love.15 It informs us that God’s love is great,16 eternal,17 infinite,18 and dependable.19 If the theme of the Bible is man’s redemption, then the central word of the Bible is love. In fact, the Bible tells us that the motivation for the scheme of redemption is God’s love for His creation. How much did God love His creation? He loved it so much that He was willing to give His only begotten Son so that it could be redeemed.20 But what kind of love would do such a thing? To understand this, we must realize that God’s love for mankind is a distinctive kind of love called agape. And what is agape? Primarily, agape is good will toward others. It is deep, tender, and warm concern for the happiness and well-being of another; it is charity toward those in need.

Again, when the Bible says, “God loves us,” it means that He really cares about us and always does what is best for us. God’s love is different from other kinds of love in that it seeks to give and not to get; it seeks to satisfy not some need of the lover, but rather the need of the one who is loved. This is what God is, that is, this is His nature. Strip from God His love and we no longer have the God who has revealed Himself to His creatures. Strip from Him His love and what remains is something very similar to the gods of the pagans.

Finally, what the Bible does not say about the essence or nature of God is just as important as what it does say. For instance, although the Bible teaches that God is His attributes and characteristics, it does not teach that any particular attribute of God is God. In other words, the Bible is not saying, and has never said, that “Love is God.” On the contrary, the Bible teaches that “God is love” (I John 4:8,16). Clearly, then, the Bible instructs us that God is His attributes and characteristics. Anyone who believes the Bible believes this. Consequently, God is, has been, and always will be who and what He is at this exact moment.

Jesus is God. This is the basic meaning of the Incarnation. In John 1:1, the Holy Spirit teaches that not only was the Word (i.e., the Divine Logos) in the beginning with God, but the Word was God. In verses 14-34, we learn that the Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In a book written so that men would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name, Thomas, speaking of Jesus, exclaims, after seeing Him in His resurrected body, “My Lord and my God.”21 There are, of course, other passages that directly speak of Jesus as God, but since they are all disputed by some, I have chosen not to mention them here. Nevertheless, the cited passages serve to demonstrate, to those who are willing to believe the Bible, that Jesus is, in fact, God.

Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews, telling us what God had prophesied about Jesus, writes, “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’”22 He also clearly identifies Jesus as the Jehovah and Elohim of Psalm 102:25-27, who eternally existed before He created the heavens and earth,23 and who remains eternally the same24 and, therefore, in the person of Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”25 To see in Hebrews 13:8 only a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus, and not a reference to His immutability, is a serious mistake. In fact, Jesus Christ’s faithfulness is grounded in His changelessness. Because He does not change ontologically (i.e., because He has always been the fullness of God that He is at this very moment), He has been, is, and always will be, completely and totally reliable. It is only in this sense that Jesus could identify Himself as the “I Am that I Am” or “He who is” of Exodus 3:14.26 When Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am,” He used the aorist tense to describe Abraham’s existence and the timeless present tense to describe His own existence, and thereby identified Himself as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God with a capital “G.”

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.27

As difficult as it may be for finite creatures to even begin to comprehend (the Bible calls it a mystery in 1 Timothy 3:16), when the Divine Logos or Son of God became flesh,28 or came in the likeness of man,29 or was manifested in the flesh,30 He did not divest, give up, or have stripped from Him, His Deity. Within the man Jesus of Nazareth dwelt, and continues to dwell (for such is the meaning of the present tense), all (not some of) the fullness of the Godhead bodily.31 From a Biblical standpoint, the historical Jesus is never understood apart from His embodiment as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God in time and space. One might argue that a God divested of His Deity would still continue to exist; but, if He did, He would no longer be what He had been and, therefore, would not be entitled to call Himself “I Am that I Am.”

When Jesus identified Himself with the enduring “I” of Exodus 3:14,32 He was not just claiming to have been God previously. Instead, He was claiming to be the eternal “I.” To those who rejected His Deity, He said:

Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh…[some translations say, ‘by human standards’].33

Brethren are creating a sham god and engaging in orthotalksy because they are trying to rely on their human understanding. Reason alone, unaided by divine revelation, provides a knowledge of God that is, at its best, only partial and, at its worst, frequently in error.34 Philosophy simply does not lend itself to an adequate understanding of God’s hidden character and purposes.35 God — who He is and what He is — is not understood on the basis of human speculation, but by the explicit teachings of the God-breathed Word. In other words, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.”36



Notes

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  1. See John 1:1,14.
  2. John 8:24.
  3. 1 John 4:3.
  4. See John 1:1.
  5. See Romans 1:23.
  6. See 1 Timothy 6:16.
  7. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.
  8. See Numbers 23:19.
  9. Exodus 3:14.
  10. See Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 6:16; John 5:26.
  11. See Deuteronomy 33:27.
  12. See Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 46:9,10; Jeremiah 32:27.
  13. Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.
  14. See John 4:24.
  15. See 1 John 4:8,16.
  16. Ephesians 2:4.
  17. See Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4-5.
  18. See Ephesians 3:18-19.
  19. See Romans 8:35-39.
  20. John 3:16; 1 John 4:9.
  21. John 20:28.
  22. Hebrews 1:8.
  23. See Hebrews 1:10.
  24. See Hebrews 1:11-12.
  25. Hebrews 13:8.
  26. See John 8:58.
  27. Psalm 90:1-2.
  28. See John 1:14.
  29. See Philippians 2:8.
  30. See 1 Timothy 3:16.
  31. See Colossians 2:9.
  32. See John 8:58.
  33. John 8:14-15.
  34. See 1 Corinthians 2:6-14.
  35. See 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.
  36. 1 Peter 4:11.

Ode To The Unknown God (VII)

Failure

The God Who Can Fail

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).

For those who believe in a God who is omnipotent, it may sound very strange to hear someone teaching that God can fail. Of course, this is exactly the idea being formulated by Process theologians and some New Testament Christians. I first heard this idea being actively expressed by brethren some thirty-plus years ago. Who and where are not important to this study. In all fairness, let me say that I do not believe any of these people, and this includes the process folks, advocate their position out of animosity toward the one true God. The problem, once again, is the free will issue. It is unfortunate that something so wonderful (viz., free moral agency) can be so misused by the evil one. Even so, we have learned by now that the Devil is a master at perverting things that, in and of themselves, are wonderful and good. Actually, God’s gracious gift of free will, which is the key to understanding so much that transpires between God and His creatures, is sorely misunderstood by many people. Consequently, before proceeding further, permit me to make a needed observation or two.

If man is truly free, if only in a limited sense, then God’s power is self-limited. For instance, God cannot (unless you hold the determinist view) force someone to obey the gospel. Why? Because man has free will, and if man has free will, then God, no matter how powerful He is, cannot make (in a determinist sense) a free moral agent obey Him. If this is true (and again, only a determinist would deny it), then there are some things an all-powerful God cannot do. But don’t panic. This truth is not quite the breeding ground for error that you might think. Any self-imposed limitation that God might place upon Himself is not actually a limitation at all, ontologically speaking. For example, the Bible makes it clear that God cannot lie. Does this impinge on His omnipotence? No, God is still omnipotent — that is, He can accomplish (make happen) anything He purposes to accomplish (make happen) — even though He cannot lie.1 Further, the things God cannot do are not limitations imposed upon Him from outside of Himself. If they were, of course, then they would negate His omnipotence. God is limited only by the necessity of being He Who Is Who He Is and the free exercise of His own will; neither of which abrogate His all-powerfulness. That He has freely chosen to be limited (at least in some sense) by the free moral agency of His creatures — the very creation of which necessitated omnipotence — does not nullify His omnipotence. In fact, it serves only to enhance and exhalt it. Indeed, we join with the heavenly host in saying: “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”2

Rice and Swinburne et al. argue that because His creatures have free will, God does not have foreknowledge of their future, contingent, free will choices.3 If this is true, they argue, then God is limited in what He can do. He can, for instance, determine to redeem fallen man, He can even implement the plan, but He cannot actually know whether the plan will be successful because of the free moral agency of those who are the objects of the plan. I know of several well-known gospel preachers who teach this. Specifically, they teach that God’s plan to redeem man through His Son, Jesus Christ, could have failed. Quite frankly, the first time I heard one of these “God can’t know what can’t be known, therefore, God could have failed” brothers teach this doctrine, I was shocked. I have now heard it articulated enough that I am not quite as shocked as I was at the beginning. Even so, I am still troubled every time I hear this erroneous argument expressed.

In essence, this doctrine teaches that Jesus Christ was not the plan, as the Bible teaches, but was, instead, a plan. If the Son would have failed in His mission to redeem fallen man, then according to these brethren, the Father would have had to implement some other strategy to salvage His original Scheme of Redemption. But what other strategy? If Jesus would have failed in His mission, then God in the flesh would have failed. As the whole undertaking was, in fact, the Father’s plan, then He, too, would have failed. For the sake of argument and clarification, let’s indulge this theological delusion for a moment so that we can discover its inescapable conclusion.

Speculating, one might say that even though the Father and Son were unable to effect man’s salvation, maybe the Holy Spirit would be able to come up with a plan to redeem man. But, by this time, the Godhead (viz., the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) would have been corrupted by sin and failure. Ergo, the triune God, the one who revealed Himself to us in the Bible, would no longer exist — He would have decayed, or disintegrated, or whatever happens to a sham god of this sort. Brethren, this sort of theological gibberish cannot be right. But unfortunately, not only do some preachers believe and preach this, they are even considered by some to be the epitome of true wisdom and orthodoxy.

The Scheme of Redemption was “predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”4 Does this sound like a plan that could fail? Certainly not! Nevertheless, the plan would be no insignificant undertaking. It would ultimately take the sacrifice of the heavenly Father’s only begotten Son,5 the divine Logos,6 who would sooner or later have to leave heaven, take upon Himself the mantle of flesh,7 and finally shed His blood on the cruel cross of Calvary for the remission of our sins.8 As such, this was not simply a plan — it was, instead, the plan. It was the plan that would work because God’s foreknowledge would allow Him to not just design a plan that could, under certain circumstances, work, but it would also allow Him to carry out the plan with absolutely impeccable precision.9 As the result of this perfect plan, the heavenly Father would be able to “bring many sons unto glory.”10 This plan could not, and would not, fail. How can I be so sure? Because, it was God’s plan, and He is the one who said:

Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.11

Does this sound like a God who could fail? Again, in Proverbs 19:21, the Scriptures say: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel — that will stand.”

The Scheme of Redemption originated in, and will eventually culminate in, eternity:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.12

Hence, in the mind of God, and this is a mind that knows the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women, the Scheme of Redemption was and is a “done deal.” Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about a done deal the way the Calvinists do. Although the Greek word proorizo, translated in the KJV as “predestinate,” does mean, according to Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Lexicon, to “predetermine,” “decide beforehand,” or “foreordain,” this does not mean that God, in eternity, made a choice of those He would save independent of anything they would do of their own free wills. Rather, God ordained or decreed, in eternity (i.e., He predestined), that those who were going be saved would have to be conformed to the image of His Son.13 This means that God did not choose individuals to be saved unconditionally, as Calvinism teaches. Instead, based upon His foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of His creatures, God predestined (i.e., determined beforehand) those who would be saved conditionally (viz., the condition being conformity to His Son’s image). This is what the apostle Paul was writing about when he said: “…just as He [the Father] chose us in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.”14 Again, does this sound like a plan that could have failed?

Acts 2:23 is the key to understanding the dichotomy that some think exists between foreknowledge and free will. It demonstrates how God works through His foreknowledge and is the perfect illustration of why God cannot fail. The passage says: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” This passage does not teach that God’s foreknowledge depends upon His determinate counsel, as determinists, and some of my brethren, teach. What this passage really says is that the death of Jesus happened the way it did because of God’s predetermined plan and foreknowledge. Both of these factors were involved in Jesus’ death on the cross. On the one hand, God determined that Jesus would become the propitiation for the sins of the world. On the other hand, the details of how this would be accomplished were planned in connection with God’s foreknowledge of the historical situation and the character and free will choices of men like Judas and the other actors in this real-life drama. In Acts 4:27-28, the Bible says, “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” Therefore, if man is truly a free moral agent, and the Bible says he is, then God’s foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women is the only way He could have carried out His predetermined plan without destroying man’s free will.

The Bible says that the same foreknowledge that allowed God to know His plan for redeeming fallen man would not fail15 is the same foreknowledge that allowed Him to know that “many sons” would, in fact, be brought to glory.16 I believe the “glory” in this verse is equivalent to the “glory” of 2 Corinthians 3:18 and is, therefore, the eternal glory that we, if we remain faithful, will one day share with our glorified Lord in heaven.17 Now, if God does not have actual foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men, as some are claiming, then how could He possibly have known that there would be any sons who would be brought to glory? But God actually speaks of “many sons” in Hebrews 2:10 and “many brethren” in Romans 8:29, the mentioning of which speaks conclusively regarding His actual foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women. The immediate context of these two passages makes this a necessary conclusion, which is as binding as any direct statement or approved example derived from God’s Word.

If God does not have actual foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men, that is, if He is truly a God who can fail, then He is nothing more than a sham God whose claim of superiority over the false gods of paganism is nothing but deception and fraud,18 all of which makes Him but little more than the two-faced, impotent, and very finite Wizard of Oz. “No,” a thousand times “No.” For such a God could not be YHWH, the Almighty God, the I Am that I Am, the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the universe! As the true God said in Isaiah 40:28-31:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

The God of the Bible does not — indeed, He cannot — fail! Anyone who thinks He can is wrong. Furthermore, anyone who thinks He can, while giving lip-service to His omnipotence and omniscience is engaged in orthotalksy. Remember, idols are not just found on pagan altars, but in the hearts and minds of well-educated men and women as well.


Notes

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  1. See Titus 1.
  2. Revelation 19:6.
  3. It has already been demonstrated that this idea is not only contrary to the Scriptures, but is nothing more than an unproved philosophical assumption.
  4. Ephesians 1:11.
  5. See John 3:16-18.
  6. Ibid.
  7. See John 1:14.
  8. See Matthew 26:28.
  9. See Acts 2:23.
  10. Hebrews 2:9-10.
  11. Isaiah 46:9-11.
  12. Romans 8:29-30.
  13. See Romans 8:29.
  14. Ephesians 1:4-5.
  15. See Acts 2:23.
  16. Hebrews 2:10.
  17. See Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:17-5:5; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 5:1-4,10.
  18. See Isaiah 41:21-29.

Ode To The Unknown God (VI)

A Blind God

The God Who Doesn’t Know The Future

Him being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, having crucified, and put to death (Acts 2:23). Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (1 Peter 1:2).

The world is filled with the sham gods of religion, science, and philosophy. Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), the son of an Anglican vicar, and a professor at both Cambridge and Harvard, was well-known for his work in the philosophy of science and mathematics. He eventually became the systematizer of a way of thinking that has come to be known as “Process philosophy.” This philosophy, also known as Panentheism, teaches that God, who is both relative and mutable, grows or develops along with His creation. This philosophy eventually evolved into what is today known as “Process theology” which, according to its proponents, is “the most important development in Christian thought since the first century.1 The reason this movement is so popular today is that it provides us sophisticated moderns with an intellectually and emotionally satisfying reinterpretation of Christianity that seems to be in complete agreement with so many of the ways of thinking that became acceptable in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Chief among Whitehead’s followers is Charles Hartshorne, who summarized his dissatisfaction with classical theism in a book entitled Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes. In addition to the idea of omnipotence, he singled out the “mistakes” of God’s perfection, omniscience, love, and immutability. Hartshorne thinks Greek and Roman philosophy has had too much influence on classical theism. His desire, therefore, is to rid us of these encumbrances and replace them with a truly enlightened and modern view of biblical faith. As we observe the changes some of our own brethren are making in their reinterpretations of God’s characteristics and attributes, it is relevant to note that Hartshorne affirms divine omniscience, but then redefines it in a radically different way than we normally think of the word. Omniscience, according to Hartshorne, is the ability to “know all that exists.” But because future, contingent, free will choices have not happened yet, they do not exist, and if they do not exist, they cannot be known even by an omniscient God. Hartshorne calls this “temporal omniscience.” This is exactly the idea that some brethren are currently defending. I have suspected for some time that the various concepts some of my brethren are defending and teaching reflect a study of Process philosophy more than they do the Word of God. If I am right, this will become more obvious as time goes on.

Process theology, according to those who have critiqued it, is a total capitulation to paganism. “Take any essential Christian belief,” these critics say, “and one will find that the process theologians supplant it with an alien belief.”2 Is God the Sovereign of the universe? Is He the personal, omnipotent, and all-knowing Creator of the universe? Is Jesus Christ the eternal, divine Son of God whose incarnation, death, and resurrection were necessary in order to redeem fallen man? Is faith in Christ the only foundation for human forgiveness? To these, and many other questions, the official Process answer is “No.”

Just how many of our brethren have read after Whitehead and Hartshorne, I have no way of knowing. But this is what I do know. The books of those who have been influenced by Whitehead, Hartshorne, et al., have found their way into the libraries of our brethren. One example would be God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will. The author of this book, Richard Rice, believes that God’s knowledge is “constantly increasing.”3 According to Rice, God does not have actual foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women. He teaches that God’s prophetic utterances are nothing more than predictions based upon His perfect knowledge of the past and infinite knowledge of the present, or His omnipotence, which He uses to make things happen, or a combination of both of these.4 It has not gone unnoticed that Rice’s book is being recommended by some brethren as the definitive answer to the question associated with the alleged “incompatibleness of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will.” I’ll have more to say about this further along in this study, but now I want to address the idea of God’s all-knowingness.

Psalm 147:5 says that God’s knowledge is infinite. Infinite in this verse is the Hebrew micpar and means the same thing it does in English. Now, if God’s understanding is infinite (i.e., having no boundaries or limits), and understanding is predicated on knowledge, then it follows necessarily that God’s knowledge is also infinite. Of course, such infinite knowledge would, in fact, be “unsearchable” by finite creatures, and this is exactly what Romans 11:33 says. In other words, God “knows all things.”5 Notice that the Bible does not say God has the capacity to know all things, which He certainly does; instead, the argument is that God actually “knows all things.” Now, if God knows all things, what is it that He does not know? Remember, the Great Intelligence of the universe is writing to His intelligent creatures and expects us to be able to understand what He’s saying. Accordingly, not only does He teach us through direct statements and approved examples, but He also expects us to make necessary conclusions. So, by direct statement the Bible teaches that God “knows all things,” and the necessary conclusion is that there is not anything God does not know—and this includes the then, now, and not yet!

This seems plain enough. The Bible teaches in no uncertain terms that there is not anything God does not know. This includes even those things that modern science tells us cannot be known. For example, in quantum physics there is an axiom known as Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle which says that one cannot know the exact position and the exact speed of any atomic particle at the same time. This means that if we calculate the speed of an electron, we cannot know its position. On the other hand, if we calculate the electron’s position, then we cannot know its speed. To do both is a practical and theoretical impossibility. Even so, what is quite impossible for man to discern is clearly known by God. In fact, God does not just know the location and speed of a particular atomic particle, He actually knows the position and speed of all atomic particles that make up the universe.

Again, the Bible teaches in no uncertain terms that there is not anything God does not know. But some say that this is not true. As has been previously mentioned, there are those who believe there are some things God just cannot know, particularly the future, contingent, free will choices of men and women. On the other hand, there are those who believe that God has the capacity to know all things but, for reasons known only to Him, chooses not to know some of these things. This, I think, is pretty much the orthodox view within churches of Christ. Unlike those previously mentioned, who advocate their position primarily for philosophical reasons, those who advocate this position do so only because the Bible seems to be saying that there are things God did not know6 and, as they are accustomed to saying, the Bible does not contradict itself. I shall be answering the questions presented by both of these arguments, but I will answer the latter group first.

True, the Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, if the Bible teaches that there is not anything God does not know, then passages like Genesis 18 and 22—which are the proof-texts of those who believe God does not know some things—must be interpreted in light of this truth. In fact, a fundamental rule of Bible interpretation says that we must understand Scripture in its normal sense unless a literal interpretation contradicts other clear teaching found in God’s Word. This is the error one makes in thinking Genesis 18 and 22 negate the all-knowingness of God. Nevertheless, it is argued by these brethren that just as God being all-powerful does not mean He has to be doing everything He has the capacity to do, neither does being all-knowing mean God must know everything He has the capacity to know. What to many sounds like incontestable logic is, in fact, a non sequitur, that is to say, an argument that does not logically follow its premise. True, being all-powerful, by definition, does not mean one has to be engaged in doing all things; but knowing all things, by definition, does mean “knowing all things.” Being all-powerful infers ability only, while being all-knowing infers not just ability, but the actual knowledge itself. In other words, the God of the Bible is not claiming that He could know all things; He’s claiming He does know all things.

Those who wrongly believe Genesis 18 and 22 to be teaching that God has chosen not to know some things ignore the plain teaching of these scriptures by their literal interpretation of these passages. Of course, fairness compels me to admit that it is equally possible for one to argue that I am doing the same thing. My task, therefore, is to demonstrate the actual accord that exists between two seemingly contradictory teachings—(1) God knows all things; (2) God does not know some things—and do it in a way that does no damage to the integrity of the Scriptures. What follows is my explanation of what appears, at first, to be a dilemma.

In Genesis 18:21, we are dealing with an unusual circumstance. God, who is omnipresent, which means His ontological being is present to all of space equally, has, on occasion, entered space at specific points and become present in it for a specific purpose. The theologians call these “theophanies.” This seems to be the case in Genesis 18:21. In verse 1 of the chapter, it says, “Then the LORD appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” In verse 2, it mentions “three men.” Whether these three men are manifestations of the triune nature of God, or whether the other two were angels, is not clear. What seems clear is that this is, in fact, a theophany. In entering the time-space continuum, God, who is infinite ontologically, willingly, and somehow, without ceasing to be who He is, allowed Himself to be subject to the finite. It’s mind-boggling, I know, but, nevertheless, this appears to be the clear import of Scripture. Now, let’s look at Genesis 18:21 with my interpretation of it in parentheses:

I, [who have somehow subjected Myself to the time-space continuum] will go down [not from heaven, but down the way geographically] now [not in eternity, but right now at this moment, subject to time and space] and see [i.e., learn experientially in time and space] whether they have done [and, more importantly, continue to do “now”] altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me [in eternity, not limited by time and space]; and if not [i.e., if they are no longer doing what I knew they were doing before I allowed Myself to be subject to time and space], I [God subject to time and space] will know [experientially].

Notice that I have emphasized the word “now” by putting it in bold letters. This is because I believe this word to be the key to understanding this passage. God, who ontologically knows the past, present, and future, contextualizes His knowing to the “now” of the time-space continuum. Are we really supposed to think that the self-existent, eternal, infinite Spirit who is God did not really know everything that had been happening in Sodom and Gomorrah? 1 John 3:20 makes it absolutely clear that God is greater than our heart (He knows our heart as well as every other heart) and knows all things. No, whatever Genesis 18:21 means must be understood by the context, and the context clearly indicates a theophany. Therefore, the theophany must be taken into consideration when trying to understand this passage. When  I debated the brother in the Foreknowledge of God debate mentioned in chapter one,  he did take the position that God cannot know the future. But even so, he at least admitted that God knew the past and present perfectly. His position was bad enough, I think, but now some are wanting me to believe that the all-knowing God does not even know the past and present perfectly. True, this is the only conclusion one may come to if this passage is to be understood literally and apart from its “now” context. Therefore, I know this conclusion is not, and cannot be, true!

I now ask you to turn your attention to what I consider the more difficult passage. In Genesis 22:12, the angel of the Lord says to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Although the “angel of the Lord” is involved in this episode, the unusual circumstances associated with a theophany are not a part of the context. Furthermore, as we have already observed, the Bible teaches us that the self-existent, eternal, and infinite Spirit who is God “knows all things.” So, again, citing a fundamental principle of hermeneutics, this passage cannot be interpreted in a way that would negate this truth.

Now, in connection with all this, it is interesting to note what the self-existent, eternal, infinite Spirit who is God knew about Abraham before He ever “tested” him. In Genesis 18:17-19, the Lord said:

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him. 

In other words, God knew that Abraham would pass the “tests” of faith, which included the one mentioned in this passage. To disregard this information, as well as the truth about God’s “all-knowingness,” is to make a serious mistake when trying to understand this passage. Yes, taken literally, the passage does appear to be teaching that God learned something about Abraham that He had not previously known. But, if God really does know all things, and the Bible says He does, and if He knew Abraham would pass all “tests,” and the Bible says He did, then Genesis 22:12 cannot be teaching what it seems to be teaching.7

I think the answer to understanding Genesis 22:12 is found in places like Deuteronomy 29 and 30, where God promises to give life or death and blessings or cursings, depending upon one’s obedience to His Word. Do what is right and one is blessed; do what is wrong and one is cursed. This is, in fact, a principle taught many places in the Bible. Although we do not expect to hear the voice of the “angel of the Lord” today, nevertheless, this principle is still true: If we serve the Lord faithfully, He will bless us; if we disobey Him, He will curse us.

God is all-knowing. This is what the Bible clearly teaches. This means that He has infallible remembrance of the past, infinite consciousness of the present, and complete foreknowledge of the future. Even so, He has agreed to deal with us in the time-space continuum. In the passage cited, you will notice that I have once again emphasized the word “now.” This is because I believe the key to understanding this passage, like the key to understanding Genesis 18:21, is the “now” context. In the “now” of Abraham’s time and space, the voice of the angel of the Lord could be heard audibly, and God is acknowledging His blessing on, or appreciation of, Abraham at a very critical time and place in his “walk of faith.” It should not go unnoticed that the word “know” in this passage is sometimes translated “to recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess, declare, or tell.” So, in harmony with the rest of Scripture, and without doing any violence to the words of this passage, Genesis 22:12 is not teaching that the all-knowing God of the universe did not really know whether Abraham would pass this critical test. Instead, He is acknowledging His appreciation of Abraham’s faithfulness to Him. In other words, He is declaring, “Abraham, I have been testing you…and you have passed the test!”

This question seems to bother many Christians. How, they wonder, can God treat us like we are saved now, if He really knows we are going to be lost later? This kind of thinking, of course, projects onto God our own human incapabilities. Again, we need to be reminded that God is “not a man”8 and, as such, is not subject to human limitations. If we all really believed this, then this problem would never arise in the minds of some. Whether these folks are consciously aware of it or not, they have conceived in their minds a sham god who suffers from finite limitations while hypocritically verbalizing their faith in the omni-characteristics of Almighty God. Hence, the god these people worship is pagan, and the language they speak is orthotalksy.

The God of the Bible has agreed to deal with us exactly where we are in the time-space continuum—namely, if we do what is right, He blesses us; but if we do what is wrong, He curses us. As was pointed out in the previous section, this principle is taught many places in God’s Word. This means that God does repent and He does relent as He deals with His free moral agents.9 When one obeys the gospel and is added to the church by Christ Himself, he has been saved from his past sins10 and has access to the spiritual blessings available only “in Christ.”11 As such, he or she is adopted by God as His own child, with all the privileges associated with such status.12 Even if this individual will eventually fall from grace13 and have his or her name removed from the Book of Life,14 God can, and does, deal with this person in a perfectly righteous way. What one will eventually do, or not do, does not prohibit God from interacting with His creatures exactly the way He said He would. Surely, one ought to be willing to listen to God’s own testimony on this. In Jeremiah 42, God set forth two options for the people: (1) Do what is right and I will bless you (verses 10-12); (2) Do what is wrong and I will curse you (verses 13-18). In Ezekiel 33:11-19, the Lord said:

Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel? Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins. When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the LORD is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it.

This, then, is what God has agreed to do, and through faith we can be sure He does it. Doubt this, and we doubt the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Before leaving this section, we need to look at one more point. God knew that Judas would betray His Son.15 Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him.16 All this was before Judas acted to betray Jesus. Is there anything in Scripture that indicates this knowledge caused our Lord to treat Judas any differently than He would have if Judas was not going to be the one who would betray Him? In other words, did Jesus behave unfairly with Judas or mistreat him in any way? Of course not! Now, if God could deal fairly with Judas, who would betray His only begotten Son, then there should be no doubt that He can deal fairly with us in the time-space continuum. If we do what is right, we can be sure He will bless us. On the other hand, if we do evil, we can be certain He will curse us.

There are those among us who believe that God’s foreknowl- edge and man’s free will are incompatible. They believe this incompatibility is “axiomatic,” or self-evident, truth. Consequently, they feel compelled to make a choice between God’s foreknowl- edge or man’s free will. Wishing to preserve the biblical concept of man’s free moral agency, they conclude that God does not have foreknowledge of man’s future, contingent, free will acts. These brethren are making a serious mistake—a mistake that has caused them to erect a sham god who cannot know the future. When expounding their position, these brethren immerse themselves in the shibboleths of orthotalksy.

Contrary to what these brethren think, the Bible teaches that God has foreknowledge of man’s future, contingent, free will acts. For example, just before he died, Moses was told by God of the coming apostasy of the Israelites.17 God was not just declaring what He planned to do, but was making it clear what human beings would be doing in the future of their own free wills.18 In addition, the Bible teaches that man has free will. Therefore, the Bible teaches both God’s foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of His creatures and man’s free will.

Furthermore, it is not true that God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will are irreconcilable. This is the figment of some philosopher’s imagination. Unfortunately, John Calvin fell victim to this thinking and instead of opting for man’s free will, he chose to believe in God’s foreknowledge. According to Calvin, man just does not have free will. Today, Calvinism is one of the most prevalent false doctrines in Christendom. Calvin’s God knows all that is going to happen in the future because He is the one who has decreed everything that will happen. According to this false doctrine, man simply does what God has decided He will do. Some, we are told, have been predestined for heaven; others have been predestined for hell. All of this, according to Calvin, was completely independent of any decision on man’s part. This, in a nutshell, is the soul of Calvinism. The entire theological system, of course, is quite detailed and very complicated. It may surprise some to learn that it is also very logical. But this is true only if one accepts Calvin’s starting premise—namely, it is axiomatic that God’s foreknowl- edge and man’s free will are totally inconsistent.

Parenthetically, I have always considered it ironic, and perhaps even a little cynical, that brethren who disagree with me concerning my teaching that God’s omniscience includes the sum total of things past, present, and future have always felt the necessity to warn me about what they think are my Calvinistic predispositions, and all this while they, themselves, are advancing Calvin’s major premise. What am I talking about? Well, look at it. Brethren who believe God either chooses not to know some things or cannot know some things take these positions in order to preserve man’s free moral agency, which they conclude is in jeopardy if God truly has foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will choices of men. In other words, accepting Calvin’s premise, they then argue the flip-side of the same theological coin. I, on the other hand, totally reject Calvinism, including his beginning premise, which is more than I can say for some of my brethren. Even so, I have never considered these brethren to be proto-, neo-, or crypto-Calvinists. Accordingly, it would  be helpful if some would find out just what Calvinism is before haphazardly bandying about their uninformed recriminations. Brethren, it is nothing short of sinful to fling about accusations without a shred of evidence. If someone is teaching false doctrine, there must be proof. If we don’t have the proof, then we had better not make the charge. A charge without proof is, in essence, bearing false witness.19 It should be obvious that I am not against speaking out against false teaching or teachers. What I am against is the ungodly way it is sometimes done. In fact, I am absolutely dismayed at the shoddy and underhanded way some brethren conduct themselves in controversy. No one, not even a false teacher, must ever be charged with anything that cannot be proven. The fact that this sort of behavior is becoming all too commonplace in religious discussions and disagreements is a shame and disgrace!

Calvin was wrong, and so are my brethren who believe God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will are incompatible. Frankly, fairness and integrity demand that those who believe this alleged incompatibility to be self-evident are under obligation to prove it, not just assume it or assert it. In truth, this supposed incompatibility has never been proven, and it never will be. Even so, some persist in arguing that if God actually knows the future before it happens, then it is certain to happen; thus, the freedom and contingency of the future are totally shattered. They then advance the idea that the certainty of future events and actions make them fixed, and if they are “fixed,” then man can do nothing other than what has been certain or fixed from eternity. Now, if one accepts this line of reasoning, and I certainly don’t, then he has but two choices: (1) he becomes a Calvinist or some other kind of determinist or (2) he denies God’s foreknowledge of the future, contingent, free will acts of His creatures.

Many contemporary theologians have opted for the latter. Among these are Richard Rice, who we mentioned earlier, and Richard Swinburne, who wrote:

If God is omniscient then he foreknows all future human actions. If God foreknows anything, then it will necessarily come to pass. But if a human action will necessarily come to pass, then it cannot be free.20

Believing, though, that man is free, Swinburne proposes a “modified account of omniscience.”21 This is the same thing Rice has done. Together, they argue in favor of God’s all-knowingness, but excluding from this all-knowingness any and all “future, contingent, free will choices.” God’s omniscience, they insist, includes all there is to know, but this does not include future free will acts because these acts are simply not knowable. I mentioned this earlier, but have repeated it here for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, Rice and Swinburne, along with some of my brethren, have become so enamored with man-made philosophies that they have, as a result, created a sham god who is much different than the one true God of the Bible. Questioned about their obvious idolatry, they have tried to protect their theological creation by masquerading him behind the cover of orthotalksy.

If we accept their major premise, then man-made philosophies do, indeed, sound very logical and, therefore, correct. Yes, God does foreknow the future and, therefore, the future He foreknows is going to happen. Yes, one can argue that the future is, indeed, “fixed.” But the path these folks have chosen at this point leads away from scriptural truths. Yes, the future acts of men and women are “fixed” all right, but not in any causative sense. In other words, they are “fixed” not because of God’s foreknowledge, but because this is the way free moral agents, exercising their free will choices, will choose to act in the future, and God, simply because He is who He is, foreknows them. This view, contrary to those of Rice, Swinburne et al., is totally consistent with what the Bible says about the complete compatibility of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will. Regrettably, some are more swayed by the think-sos of men than the truths taught in God’s Word.


Notes

After reading the footnote, make sure you hit the back button on the browser to return to text.


  1. Ronald Nash, ed., Process Theology, 1987, in the Introduction.
  2. Ibid.
  3. 1985, pages 30, 39.
  4. Rice, pages 75ff.
  5. 1 John 3:20.
  6. See Genesis 18:21 and 22:12.
  7. I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable when making this kind of statement. Nevertheless, I am confident that this is the correct way to think about this passage. The apostle Paul was not the only inspired writer who wrote things difficult to understand, which, if we are not careful, can be twisted to teach something completely contrary to truth (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). Our responsibility is to be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, as workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This is not always easy, but if we work hard at it, then we, like Abraham, will also pass the “test.”
  8. See Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29.
  9. It must be understood that this “repenting” and “relenting” on God’s part has nothing to do with His specific irrevocable decisions—decisions in which any amount of intercession on man’s part or repentance on God’s part will change (cf. Ezekiel 24:13-14).
  10. See Acts 2:47.
  11. Ephesians 1:3.
  12. See Romans 8:14-17.
  13. See Galatians 5:4.
  14. See Revelation 3:5;22:19.
  15. See Psalm 41:9; Acts 2:23.
  16. See John 6:70-71.
  17. See Deuteronomy 31:16-21.
  18. In places like Deuteronomy 30:19, et cetera.
  19. See Romans 13:9.
  20. Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, 1977, page 167.
  21. Swinburne, pages 172ff.