Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, "It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles.
For the Lord gave us this command when he said, 'I have made You a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.'"
When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. (Acts 13:46-48)
I told you in the last Gemz I will look at the idea of pre-destination from a more traditional point of view and give you a new slant on that. I will share with you how I reconcile these mysteries in this Gemz. Yes, now is the moment Winny and many others who have been asking me to deal with the notion of predestination for a long time. Why have I not done this before now. Simply because we have not been dealing with a verse or portion of Scripture where predestination and free will were in focus. In the Gemz I work my way through the text of a Bible book systematically, showing you how to let the words that are written teach you how to rightly interpret the Book of God. Human communication is not a matter of a series of disjointed random sentences. Each sentence has a context. To pluck a sentence out of its context and then turn it every which way, in order to interpret it is not biblical interpretation.
I had interesting reactions to the quote I included from John Calvin himself. "God preordained a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation." I had a number of you writing to me to ask whether I agreed with that quote or not. That is why on social media I made clear I did not agree with Calvin’s statement. In fact Calvin’s statement is diametrically opposed to the message of the Bible as a whole. As I teach people in Deeper Bible you have to use the whole Bible in order to interpret the Bible. To do that you have to have read the Bible all the way through in order to pick up the consistent way in which the message of God is conveyed. If your interpretation of a particular verse appears to deny the basic theme or teaching of the Word of God then it is likely that you are taking the verse out of context. We all know the saying that a verse without a context is a pretext. It’s true. Yes I simply quoted John Calvin to give you the stark truth of Calvinism in a nutshell, to which a number of reacted, and rightly so. I am often misquoted or wrong interpreted. I hear all sorts of things people claim what Ian thinks or said about this thing or that thing. I believe most of the time their comment is made to give credence to some idea which is marginal. When I hear such claims I shake my head in amazement and say to the one who told me (if we are face to face) – if you really know me then you will know I don’t think like that. Let me now give you the real kicker - If you really know God you will know He doesn’t agree with Calvin either. It is opposed to what the message of Bible is all about. If Calvinism is true there was no need for God to sacrifice His One and Only Son. Think about it.
My friend Tim whose opinion and biblical knowledge I highly esteem wrote "I appreciate in your current issue a more balanced view of what Acts 13.48 is talking about. I hate to hear the doctrinnaire Calvinistic response that we are foreordained (or not!) to redemption and we have absolutely nothing to do with it.” Tim pointed me in the direction of a book by a friend of his that he says is well worth getting. "Look at David Schonberg, Is Calvinism Good News. David has been a friend for fifty years. He is a Minnesota organic vegetable farmer and has some of the best wisdom on hard biblical questions I have ever read--and he has not had even a day of seminary. His secret is to look for the simple message of Scripture. It is there when we close our ears to the din of scholarly pronouncements." The accords so much with my heart for teaching Deeper Bible. I like David Schonberg already and I don’t know him yet nor have I read his book. But on Tim’s recommendation I pass this on to you. "You can buy an online copy of his book. It is small but potent!" That is high praise coming from Tim.
Check out David Schonberg, "Is Calvinism Good News," pages 118-119, who delightfully helps the reader understand the Simple Message of Scripture, here basically giving you a multiple choice:
a. all who were divinely decreed, appointed, established, fated to eternal life from before the foundation of the world believed;
b. all who were divinely arranged, ordered, prepared to eternal life believed;
c. all who arranged, ordered, prepared themselves to eternal life believed.
Clearly the last choice is consistent with the overriding message of Scripture, free of any Augustinian or Calvinistic overload. The entire book is so full of wisdom and insight as it unwinds, strand by strand, the ball of string rolled up against us.
Tim also wrote: “I have long been wanting to write an essay on the "simple message" (as above), showing that in most cases where there is a difference of opinion between two theological camps, there is a simple message reading that turns both on their heads.
But to do that, I need help and it just occurred to me that your GEMZ readers might be able to provide it. (I suggest that because it is clear to me that you have ongoing healthy give and take with your faithful readership.) What I am seeking is a list (the longer the better) of everyone's favorite biblical paradoxes. For example, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and clearly implies that he knows everything future (the open theists deny that is a teaching of Scripture, carefully deconstructing every traditional verse on the subject) and that we have free will. But that is a paradox, for how can God, knowing everything about me, allow me free will, since if he knows everything, he knows what I will choose to have for breakfast, but if indeed he knows what I will choose and eat ahead of time, then it cannot be said that I have free will--everything is predetermined by his knowledge. Might you be willing to ask your readership to provide me with their favorite paradoxes and not a few?"
I decided this was the best time to pass on Tim’s request to you. Strike while the iron is still in the fire as we are talking about it now. So I pass on Tim’s request to you now. Here is your chance. I am sure Tim will pass on his wisdom on the paradoxes you come up with. Then you won’t have to wait until Ian gets a round tuit.
Now for what I promised you. How do I reconcile this issue of Predestination and Free Will. I say it is not a matter of anyone being fated or pre selected to become a child of God while others are rejected. That is not how God works. I love what Tim has sent above encapsulated in David’s three multi-choice options. I totally agree with C). You position yourself to receive eternal life based on what you do with the Christ. No one comes to God without coming through Him. Coming on the basis of the offer God made. That is why I categorically say there is no other way to salvation and eternal life apart from Him. He is the only way. Only in Christ did God come down as opposed to you working your way up the ladder of human endeavor. The Bible writers make it clear that approach will never get you there.
If that is so Ian, how then do you handle the verses which seem to indicate God knows those who are His from before the foundation of the world? I think that is easy. It is not in the sense that from before the foundation of the world you were pre selected or fated to be a Christ follower while the one beside you wasn’t. That would be the work of a fickle and arbitrary god. I believe the only way God can know those who are His is because he is the Alpha and the Omega. As I used to teach in God’s Awesome Book, only God can write history in advance. He knows our predispositions and our likelihood to accept or reject Him. He knows my tendencies to jump to conclusions and to want to weigh up the evidence. He knew my unwillingness to make steps of faith but rather to want to have the evidence to believe. He knows too my tendency toward procrastination and putting things off that are in the too hard basket. He knows all those things but when the Bible says He knows those who are His I believe that because of God’s all knowingness He ultimately knows my likelihood to decide to put my trust in Him. It is not in a prescriptive way so that the decision is made for me and I have no choice in the matter. Rather it is in a descriptive way because He knows me so well. But always and forever the decision to follow Him is mine to make.
That decision is also never on the basis of the evidence I have for trusting him. You will not be able to ask God all the questions you wish so that faith is dispensed with and you know all the facts and can make an informed decision. As the wise man who led me to Christ said: Ian, God will never give you the answers to all of your questions. He will always leave you a faith gap short. Every one must come to him from beginning to end on the basis of trusting that what He says is true. While He may give you some input to your faith on the basis of your questions, ultimately you will still have to choose to follow Him or reject Him. And what’s more it is not a once and for all decision. You know yourself learning to trust Him in everything (trust from a biblical perspective) is learned on back of the minute everyday decisions you make which lead you toward trusting Him more with each step and hearing His voice. It's a result of walking with Him rather than making a one off decision to “believe" in Him. To think that decision to believe in Him, who had always existed and created all that is with the power of His word, is some mental agreement that He exists and you acknowledge the fact shows how far from Him you are.
I will continue with this in next Gemz. We are not finished yet but almost. I will share with you the insight I had to the 153 fish of John and why none were lost. Hang on to your seat, your hat and your bait until Friday.
God doesn't agree with Calvin either.
To think that to believe in Him means to finally agree that God exists shows how far you are from Him. Ian
Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it. G.K. Chesterton
Just as God is God even if no one believes He exists. Ian