Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, states: “Paul speaks of believers being predestined according to the counsel of God’s will. The question then is not, Does the Bible teach predestination? The question is, What exactly does the biblical concept of predestination mean?” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.140)
Exactly. The difference between Calvinism and Arminianism over “predestination” is not whether the Bible teaches it, but rather, what exactly does the Bible say that God predestines.
Sproul continues: “In summary we may define predestination broadly as follows: From all eternity God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish. God made a choice--he chose some individuals to be saved unto everlasting blessedness in heaven, and he chose others to pass over, allowing them to suffer the consequences of their sins, eternal punishment in hell.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.141, emphasis mine)
Actually, that’s not a biblical definition, as you will not find any verse in the Bible that defines it in such a manner. However, we could say that based upon John 3:16, that the “some members” that God decreed to save and give eternal life are those who believe in His Son, while “the rest” who are unbelieving, God will allow to perish in Hell, just as how the father allowed the prodigal son to walk away. (Of course the prodigal son returned, and God is patient and willing for all to repent and come to Him, and not perish, as per 2nd Peter 3:9.) In one context, Predestination is that which God does for Christians, such as Romans 8:29, in terms of what God has predestined in Christ, namely, every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3) In another setting, God may describe Predestination as something that He does according to His foreknowledge. (Acts 2:23)
Ephesians 1:5-6: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
Just like with Romans 8:29, being for Christians (based upon Romans 8:28), Ephesians 1:5 is regarding that which God predestines in Christ (based upon Ephesians 1:3).
God predestined those “in the Beloved” (i.e. in Christ, Christians, ect.), “to adoption.” Galatians 4:4-5 states: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” God predestines to salvation, those whom He foreknew in Christ.
Adrian Rogers explains God’s work of predestination: “What is Predestination? Predestination is not God saying from eternity that one man’s going to heaven and another man is going to hell. Predestination deals primarily with what God intends to do for those who trust Him and what God will do for saved people. Predestination teaches me on the authority of God that when I’ve trusted Christ as my personal Savior and Lord, I will be like Jesus Christ.” (What We Have in the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 1:1-12, emphasis mine)
That is an excellent summary of Romans 8:28-29 as well, and also notice the stark contrast between this, and the aforementioned definition by Calvinist, R.C. Sproul.
Adrian Rogers explains what it means to be predestined to Adoption: “How do you get into the family of God? You are spiritually born into the family of God. You are legally adopted into the family of God. Now when you are born in to God’s family, that’s the new birth. That deals with your position in Christ. When you are adopted, that deals with your privilege in Christ, and in Christ, we have both birth and adoption and we are predestined to this adoption. Therefore, we are fully accepted.” (What We Have in the Lord Jesus, Ephesians 1:1-12, emphasis mine)
The next kind of predestination deals with something that Calvinists ultimately render as Theistic Fatalism. It’s the wild notion that all life forms and its activities stem from a decree by God:
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, writes: “Predestination seems to cast a shadow on the very heart of human freedom.” (Chosen By God, p.51, emphasis mine)
In this context, Calvinistic Determinism is what’s really in focus.
Sproul continues: “If God has decided our destinies from all eternity, that strongly suggests that our free choices are but charades, empty exercises in predetermined playacting. It is as though God wrote the script for us in concrete and we are merely carrying out his scenario.” (Chosen By God, p.51, emphasis mine)
To a Calvinist, this kind of “script” is essential for God to be “in control.”
Sproul elaborates: “If He decides to allow something, then in a sense he is foreordaining it. ... If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the ground and glorious plans that God has made and promised to us. ... If we reject divine sovereignty then we must embrace atheism.” (Chosen by God, pp.26-27, emphasis mine)
In other words, if there is something that God didn’t “decree” via an eternal “script,” then Sproul feels that we might as well all be atheists. The problem is that God doesn’t need to determine something, in order to be sovereign over it, just as 1st Corinthians 10:13 indicates: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” So in this context, God is omniscient enough to know what you can handle, and sovereign enough to limit the options and provide the way of escape. So God doesn’t need to determine whether a person takes the way of escape, in order to be in control over it. God remains all-knowing and all-powerful, no matter what you do. However, to a Calvinist, unless God determines all choices, He cannot know any choices. The problem with that, is that it fails to grasp the very nature of God, who does not need to look into the future in order to know the future, but rather, God dwells in the future, residing in all time and space. That is God being omnipresent, in all time and space.
Adrian Rogers explains: “Foreknowledge does not mean to cause to happen. Some people think that if God foreknows it, then God makes it happen. That would mean that because God foreknew that there was going to be blasphemy or sodomy or rape that God caused it to happen. And of course He does not cause those things to happen. The astronomers know when Halley’s comet is going to appear again. But their knowledge does not cause it to happen. Foreknowledge means on thing: knowing ahead of time. God has foreknown you and your salvation, if you know Christ.” (Foundations For Our Faith: Vol.II, A Study in Romans Chapters 5-9, pp.91-92, emphasis mine)
Jerry Vines explains: “God’s knowledge of the future doesn’t determine the future any more than man’s knowledge of the past determines the past.” (Calvinism – A Baptist and his Election, emphasis mine)
What follows is the Deterministic aspect of Calvinistic Predestination:
John Calvin writes: “First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine)
Calvin explains: “God had no doubt decreed before the foundation of the world what He would do with every one of us and had assigned to everyone by His secret counsel his part in life.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.20, emphasis mine)
Calvin writes: “…the reason why God elects some and rejects others is to be found in His purpose alone. … before men are born their lot is assigned to each of them by the secret will of God. … the salvation or the destruction of men depends on His free election.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.203, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “At this point in particular the flesh rages when it hears that the predestination to death of those who perish is referred to the will of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.208, emphasis mine)
John Calvin writes: “When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. It is therefore wrong to say that the reprobate are worthy of eternal destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.120-121, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.121, emphasis mine)
John Calvin writes: “Solomon also teaches us that not only was the destruction of the ungodly foreknown, but the ungodly themselves have been created for the specific purpose of perishing (Prov. 16:4).” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, pp.207-208, emphasis mine)
Those quotes certainly give the impression of a Theistic Fatalism, in that there is a decreed script, where everyone has their part to play. However, to the Arminian, predestination involves God’s plans, linked with foreknowledge:
Acts 2:23: “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”
In this context, predestination deals with God’s plans, which are by no means blind, but are guided by the foreknowledge of God. Calvinists have a big problem with foreknowledge, and therefore you will frequently find them rendering foreknowledge as foreordination, in order to make Calvinism work.
Many of God’s predeterminations are based upon Middle Knowledge. For instance, God knew that Joseph’s brothers were going to kill Joseph, but God also knew that if He provides an alternative in the form of slave traders, that they would take that route instead. (See Genesis 50:20.) What God is doing, is establishing His own predeterminations, based upon His Middle Knowledge of what man does. Also God knew that Pharaoh would not let the Israelites freely go. (See Exodus 3:19-20.) So God determined (1) that Israel will be released, and (2) based upon His Middle Knowledge of Pharaoh’s hard heart, predetermined to use signs and wonders in order to motivate Pharaoh. Additionally, God determined to send Jonah to Nineveh to preach repentance, but knowing that Jonah only wanted for them to be destroyed, and would run away from having to preach to them, God predetermined a great storm and whale transportation, in order to get Jonah to God’s desired location. These are all examples of how God’s predestinations operate, and in no way requires anything Calvinistic.