predestination: have we predetermined God?

Chess Board

In the last week I have constantly been approached in regard to conversations concerning Calvinism.

I don’t know why. I am one of the least interested people in the subject that I know (ignoring of course my stupid post about ‘Calvin Crunch’…). For some reason, though, it seems that the issue of predestination is on a lot of people’s minds. Indeed, there does seem to have been a bit of renewed interest in the subject from the Reformed wing of the Church (think of guys like Mark Driscoll, for example).

What I am about to propose is by no means definitive, for a few reasons; 1) I haven’t really done the relevant reading on Calvinism, 2) I don’t know everything…, 3) I’m not even particularly interested. But hopefully some of my thoughts can help you think about the issue of predestination from a new angle (whether you are a Calvinist, Arminian, Molinist, Open Theist or other…).

Oh, one more thing before I start – please make sure to carefully read what I’m saying before you jump to conclusions, and then after you’ve thought through what I say feel free to commend or crucify me.

I think I can safely say that two of the main issues in regard to the predestination debate are our concept of predestination itself and our concept of God. In regard to the former issue I will simply say that our conception of predestination must flow from a salvation-historical framework, beginning with the fact that salvation is larger than individual security. Genesis 12:1-3, kicking off the plan of worldwide redemption, reveals that God’s plan has been to bring salvation to all the world.

All the world.

Israel was predestined, that is, elect, in order that they might bring God’s plan for salvation to fruition. Salvation to all the world. Rescue to all the world. Considering a doctrine of hell, or even a loosely formed doctrine of afterlife didn’t exist at the time of Abraham, or at the time of early Israel, I can’t see how election should refer to such a thing. I would suggest that many conceptions of predestination have an assumed view of ‘salvation’ merely as a favourable post-mortem destination and that such a view is, quite frankly, sub-biblical.

But enough about our incorrect definitions of predestination, that, for now, is not really my point. I want to talk about God.

When we speak of God we inevitably accentuate certain of his characteristics. Some may try to claim they don’t do such a thing, and hold all of God’s attributes in equal standing, but such a task is impossible. Some emphasise his love and mercy, others his power, others his Sovereignty, others his holiness etc. etc. Calvinism, by and large, stresses God’s Sovereignty – he is Lord over all, and thus predestination fits within this framework.

And of course God’s Sovereignty is something I believe in and think is essential, wholeheartedly. However, I’m not sure that it should be the dominating theme in terms of God’s character. “Why not?” some may ask, “for surely God’s Lordship is the most important aspect of his character, you heretical ________.”

Let me ask one question; does God esteem his own Sovereignty over his other attributes?

What comes to mind when I ask something like that? Short-cutting any alternative views for now, I would suggest that our view of God must be shaped by Jesus, and not predetermined by anything else. Indeed, Jesus is the perfect representation of God (John 1:18; 12:45, 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). What, then, does Jesus reflect about God? I mean, if Jesus is God, then what he did would be the paradigmatic self-definition of God, right?

Jesus entered into the world.

Jesus became weak.

Jesus rejected all power claims.

Jesus modelled peace. And love. And mercy.

Jesus died.

I mean, clearly Jesus valued relationship to those he wanted to save over simply demonstrating Sovereignty over them. If not, then why did he enter the chessboard rather than simply moving the pieces around?

Even in his Resurrection Jesus wasn’t interested in demonstrating his absolute power over his enemies. Not in punishment anyway. He was interested in creating a people to bring them good news. The good news that he was King, and that there was a new way of life for the world.

So Jesus, in being King, doesn’t actually do kingship like we expect. Rather than merely whisk some elect people off to heaven (a Gnostic view, anyway), Jesus’ Sovereignty actually saves the world. Here. Now. Good news…

So predestination is not even about eternal destination. It is about forming a people to do what Jesus did…

…on earth. As in heaven.

No wonder Paul, in writing about the future glory of creation in Romans 8, says that we were predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son (8:29).

To the very image of God.

A God who chooses his love, mercy and relational attributes over Sovereignty.

Who chooses to enter the chessboard rather than move the pieces around at will.

So that all creation might be rescued.

Let the re-mix begin.


Posted on October 20, 2009, in New Testament, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Benjamin Skinner

    Great post Matt. Haven’t seen this point before in these discussions re: Jesus. Great food for thought.

  2. I don’t profess to be a scholar on this matter and for that reason I choose to stay away from these discussions.

    However, I was struck by the reality of what I read today when I was doing some further research into the West Bank for Open Doors.

    To me, your theory makes global sense. I feel sad that the misconception about the sovereignty of God throughout history has caused so much suffering to our brothers and sisters particularly in Palestine.

    I copied a part of a message I read today from Prof. Abe W. Ata, (posted in 2006). He was a temporary delegate to the UN in 1970 and has lived and worked in the Middle East, America and Australia. Dr Ata is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Advancement of Research, and lectures in Psychology at the Australian Catholic University. Dr Ata is a 9th generation Christian Palestinian academic born in Bethlehem.

    What we do know is that both sides are abusing the Palestinians. Apparently we don’t enter into anyone’s calculations.

    The views of the Israeli Right are well known: they want us gone.

    Less well known are the views of the American Religious Right. Strangely, they find the liberation of Iraqis from a vile dictator just, but do not find it unjust for us to be under military occupation for 38 long years.

    Said Senator James Inhofe (R-OK):

    “God Appeared to Abraham and said: ‘I am giving you this land,’ the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.’”

    Inhofe must have got it wrong. Promises are being made to earthly Jerusalem, that again, God did not make! . For Paul wrote that the Holy Land was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. These are the Palestinian Muslims, Christians, and Jews, who have been living in the land for thousands of years. The Bible never mentioned that God promised it solely to Jews. Anyone can be a Jew, but not anyone can be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. James Inhofe and followers are unable to tell the difference between Jew, Israelite, and Israel.

    It is very clear, that in Israel, there will be no continuing city!

    (Hebrews-13-13-14) Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His Reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek on to come!
    His Promise to Abraham! (Hebrews-11-10) For he looked for a City which has foundations (Christ The Foundation) whose builder and maker is God!
    (16) Now they desire a better Country, that is, An Heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He HAS prepared for them a City!

    Heavenly Jerusalem, of Heavenly Israel!!

    House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) was even more forthright:

    “I’m content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank…I happen to believe that the Palestinians should leave.”

    There is a phrase for this: Ethnic cleansing.

    Silencing us, from seeking your support and enlightening you about our suffering, goes counter to what Jesus has mandated us to do. We all know that Muslims and Jews get ceaseless support (political, spiritual and financial) consecutively from Saudi Arabia and America respectively; We, the Palestinian Christians, get nothing from the Australian and other Western “Christian” governments.

    I agree with Matt, Jesus values relationship to those he wants to save over simply demonstrating sovereignty over them. From my understanding, this is what the Palestinian Christians believe too – maybe that is because they have seen their Christian brothers, sister and pastors murdered simply because of the belief that Israel was predestined and this has taken precedence over the Good News that Jesus proclaimed.

    Sometimes we think our good news is better than God’s!

  3. Agree totally. That God is sovereign goes with the territory of calling him God (this is why the OT has so many verses on God’s sovereignty; it5’s all about stressing, in the face of pagan idolatry, that God is the only one.) But, in the NT, what do we see? How does He use this sovereignty? He subjugates it to love, and chooses weakness over power. He is not the puppeteer, he is the Saviour and the Lover.

    I haven’t read them myself, but I have been told that the books of Robert Shank are very interesting on this. As I understand it, his contention is that Jesus is the elect, the predestined one, and we too become the elect when we are in Christ. haven’t checked it out in depth, but it makes pretty good sense to me.

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