Monday, October 08, 2012

Blueprint predestination

Arminians have become increasingly brazen in attacking predestination and providence. They say Calvinism makes God a “moral monster.” “Worse than Hitler.” “Worse than Satan.” They’ve taken the infidel position that if Scripture actually taught Calvinism, then Arminians ought to deny the faith. Turn their back on Christ.

Although that’s extreme, that’s a logical extreme. If you really think Calvinism makes God a “moral monster” who’s worse than Satan, and if you became convinced that Scripture teaches Calvinism, then you haven’t left yourself an out. Apostasy would be the logical fallback position, given the premise.

Now I hope that Arminians who say this (e.g. David Baggett, Jerry Walls, Randal Rauser, Roger Olson) are simply indulging in rhetorical bravado. They are so caught up in the momentum of the debate that they issue intemperate threats which, after a cooling off period, they’d realize are foolhardy. That’s the most charitable interpretation, although it may be charitable to a fault.

Why do Calvinists keep bringing the issue back to Scripture? Because Christianity is a revealed religion. Because only God knows his own mind. We lack direct access to the mind of God. Intentions are hidden. We don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us. That’s not something we can intuit or infer from the natural order.

Some Arminians seem to think the case for predestination comes down to a handful of prooftexts like Rom 9. In this post I’m going to quote a range of passages that bear on predestination and providence. Of course, just quoting the Bible doesn’t necessarily settle the issue, since the Bible is subject to interpretation. But I get the impression that some Arminians have never read the Bible from cover-to-cover. They don’t know what all is there.

It’s useful to present some of the prima facie evidence for predestination and providence in Scripture, so that Arminians have a better idea of why Calvinists believe what they do. We can debate the best interpretation of any given passage, but let’s begin by getting some of the raw evidence on the table. Keep in mind that this is just a sampling of the available evidence.

Arminians typically recast the issue in philosophical categories like “causation,” “determinism,” or “causal determinism,” then proceed to attack these categories. Although there’s a place for framing the issue philosophically, that’s not where we should begin. It makes the debate too abstract, as if this is just a debate over competing ideas or philosophical models. It’s important to start with revealed truths.

Likewise, they say Calvinism “makes God the author of sin” (whenever that means). But even if we accept that framework for the sake of argument, the deeper question is whether the Bible makes God the “author of sin.” Suppose the word of God makes God the “author of sin”? Then what? Where does that leave the Arminian? 

One final point concerns the defining interrelationship between predestination and providence. As Warfield put it:

Providence and predestination are ideas which run into one another. Providence is but predestination in its execution; predestination is but providence in its intention. When we say the one, we say the other, and the common idea which gives its content to both is control.

It is purely this idea of control which people object to when they say they object to predestination; not the idea of previousness, but purely the idea of control. They would object just as much if the control was supposed to be exercised without any previous intention at all.

“Some Thoughts on Predestination,” Shorter Writings 1:106.


10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:10-11).

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Rev 4:11).

And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exod 33:19).

Meticulous providence

The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Prov 16:4).

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Prov 21:1).

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps (Jer 10:23).

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father (Mt 10:29).

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place (Acts 17:26).

Inexorable plan

24 The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
    so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
    so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.”

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back?
(Isa 14:24-27)

Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back? (Isa 43:13).

Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa 46:10).

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isa 55:11).

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
(Ps 33:10-11)

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Ps 115:3).

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Ps 135:6).

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand (Prov 19:21).

No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord (Prov 21:30).

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath (Heb 6:17).

Eternal plan

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

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Cor 2:7).

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph 1:4).

Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began (2 Tim 1:9).

2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior (Tit 1:2-3).


You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?
(Isa 29:16).

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” or “Your work has no handles”? (Isa 45:9).

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isa 64:8).

“Random” events

But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee (Exod 21:13).

And a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and crushed his skull (Judges 9:53).

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).

But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded” (1 Kgs 22:34).

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense (Lk 1:8-11).

Evil events

5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Gen 45:5-8).

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen 50:20).

For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed! (Lk 22:22).

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and prior choice of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23).

To do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:28).

Evil attitudes

He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds (Ps 33:15).

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go (Exod 4:21).

But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt (Exod 7:3).

For it was the Lord's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses (Josh 11:20).

If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death (1 Sam 2:25).

But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom (2 Chron 25:20).

He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants (Ps 105:25).

10 Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”
(Isa 6:10)

He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”
(Jn 12:40)

For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).
(Isa 29:10)

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
(Rom 11:7-8)

O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.
(Isa 63:17).

Thus says the Lord God: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme (Ezk 38:10).

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech (Judges 9:23).

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel (Judges 14:4).

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Sam 16:14).

And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom (2 Sam 17:14).

So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat (1 Kgs 12:15).

20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you” (1 Kgs 22:20-23).

5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land’” (2 Kings 19:5-7).

Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The Lord has declared disaster concerning you (2 Chron 18:22).

And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel (Ezk 14:9).

11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thes 2:11-12).

For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled (Rev 17:17).

Subliminal control

A man's steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way? (Prov 20:24).

6 Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few
(Isa 10:6-7)


  1. But I get the impression that some Arminians have never read the Bible from cover-to-cover. They don’t know what all is there.

    I get that strong impression too.

    Apostasy would be the logical fallback position, given the premise.

    Interestingly, I've read many deconversion stories of apostates who say (words to the effect) "It was only after I actually started reading the Bible that I started realizing how much I disagreed with it's teaching. That's what eventually lead me to reject Christianity" Or, "If I had only read the Bible while I was a Christian, I would have rejected Christianity sooner." So, I believe that SOME people really do mean it when they say that if it could be demonstrated that something like Calvinism is taught in the Bible that they would reject Christianity.

    Some of those same people might be truly saved. If so, they're in for a shock of a lifetime when they arrive at heaven.

  2. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).

    When, if ever, is it appropriate to cast lots to discern the decision of the Lord?

    1. The point is not that one is casting lots to discern God's will (although people do that), but that God even controls a deliberately randomizing process.

  3. Steve, what's the best book defending the reformed view of predestination?