God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

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By Spencer D Gear

Within the evangelical Christian community, there are two prominent views on how human beings are elected by God to salvation. They are the views of Calvinism and Arminianism. See examples of these views:

checkerboard-arrow-small Arminianism: Roger Olson, ‘Election is for everyone‘;

checkerboard-arrow-small Calvinism: J I Packer, ‘Election: God chooses his own’;

In a discussion on God’s predestination/election and foreknowledge on a Christian Forum, this was stated:

It can’t be “both”, it’s either one or the other. One is the cart, the other is the horse. Either God’s grace is the driving engine behind a man’s salvation, or the man is. Either Christians in heaven will be saying “the reason I’m here is because God chose me” or they will be saving “The reason God chose me is because I decided to be here.[1]

My response was:

Chosen But Free, 3rd Edition

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Salvation that involves the omniscience of God and the free choices of human beings is God-centred. That’s how God has revealed this situation in Scripture and Geisler has attempted to demonstrate this – Chosen but Free.[2] They are understood as based on God’s omniscience. It is a very God-centred doctrine of salvation, straight from the authoritative God of Scripture.

I would not be supporting such a view if it were not what is found in Scripture. I’m committed to the inerrancy of Scripture in the autographa [the original documents of Old and New Testaments).

It seems that it is your Calvinistic interpretation that wants to place any view other than yours as the creation over the Creator. This is clearly not the case with Geisler (1999) and it is not my view.The choices of human beings are ‘free’ in the sense that God has extended to all human beings common grace (see Titus 2:11).

Your example of your son is not adequate for the discussion we are having because with your son you are dealing with how to set parameters for discipline, because you love him. With the eternal God, he is revealing how his love for the whole world makes salvation available to all. As I understand them, unconditional election and irresistible grace involve forced love. Geisler has labelled this as ‘divine rape’ – not nice terminology, but it does try to get to the essence of forced love for salvation.

I support your view of ‘the wise and immutable choices of God’, but it is the basis on which those immutable choices are made about which we disagree. Are you promoting an immutable decree in predestination? I’m promoting predestination/election, based on the foreknowledge of God and that involves freedom of individuals to voluntarily love or reject God’s offer of salvation when the Gospel is shared or preached.

Mine is a God-centred theology of salvation that incorporates the Gospel, God’s omniscience in foreknowledge, election that includes human beings freely choosing to respond favourably to the Gospel. It is genuine free will that God has given to all.[3]

How would Apologetic_Warrior, a Presbyterian and Reformed believer, respond? Before looking at his response to my post on foreknowledge, it is important to note his emphasis in a previous post,

Sorry but election by “free” choices of men is “man centered” doctrine if there ever were such a thing. Of course Geisler does not come right out and speak in those terms, he is blind to the fact, cannot see the forest for the trees. So let me rephrase, Geisler does not intentionally place the creation over the Creator, but he does so unintentionally based on his philosophical presuppositions.

If Geisler and yourself believe in original sin and total depravity, in what sense can man’s choices be said to be “free”? Free of what to what?[4]

Now to his response about foreknowledge in Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Peter 1:1-2. It was fairly predictable. It is a common response I receive from the Reformed who don’t believe that salvation and God’s foreknowledge are associated with election/predestination. He wrote:

Neither of those verses support what you would like for them to support.

If we interpret “those whom he foreknew” in the sense you suggest, let me ask you this, are we therefore to interpret that as God foreknowing some but not others? No, God foreknows everyone’s destiny in the knowledge sense of the term. Because the phrase limits the number of persons (those), I believe a more accurate rendering would be “those whom he foreLoved”, as we already know of instances in Scripture where to “know” someone (“Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived”) is to love intimately.

Neither of the verses give the cause or basis of election, and neither is it contradiction for the Calvinist to agree that there is a tie between election and foreknowledge….and predestination and sovereignty. What you read into foreknowledge is the “choices of men”, where we Calvinists read the free choices of God on the basis of His love and mercy, according to His will and His purpose, for His glory.[5]

Here was my response:[6]

‘For those whom he foreknew 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’ (Romans 8:29-30; emphasis added).

‘He foreknew’ is the Greek proegnw, aorist, active indicative of proginwskw, which means ‘know beforehand, in advance, have foreknowledge of something… Choose beforehand someone’ (Arndt & Gingrich p. 710). Therefore, your statement, ‘I believe a more accurate rendering would be “those whom he foreLoved”‘, is your own opinion and is not based on the etymology of the word.

Proginwsko means to foreknow, to know in advance. The preposition pro that begins this verb does not change the meaning of ginwsko (I know), but simply dates it, the same preposition is associated with proorizo, I predestine in advance in Rom 8:29. This divine action reaches back to eternity.

We need to note that the verb for knowing is ginwsko and not oida, to know about someone, intellectual apprehension. Proginwsko refers to a knowing relationship that is a personal relationship between the knower and the person known. So it becomes plain that when God foreknew, in his omniscience He foreknew in personal relationship. This does not refer to what you want it to mean, ‘foreloved’, but to know personally in relationship through foreknowledge.
Therefore, when Jesus said concerning the unbelievers and judgment, ‘I never knew you’, Jesus did not know the wicked with the affection of a personal relationship.

Romans 8:29 most definitely refers to foreknowledge of God, a personal relationship of knowing by God with believers. I am not imposing my meaning on the text. I’m exegeting the text, based on etymology of foreknowledge.

So one of the fundamentals in understanding God’s election of a person to receive salvation, is God’s foreknowledge according to Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1-2.

Works consulted

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Lenski, R C H 1936. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. This commentary was originally published by the Lutheran Book Concern in 1936. The Hendrickson Publishers’ edition was printed in 2001.

The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to…

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[1] Apologetic_Warrior #388, Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘Is rejecting Christ a sin?’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755517-39/ (Accessed 8 July 2013).

[2] 1999. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #386.

[4] Ibid., Apologetic_Warrior #385.

[5] Ibid., Apologetic_Warrior #401.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #405, with some guidance from R C H Lenski (1936:556-557).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 April 2016.