27 February 2009


I have a 19-year old female friend (the youngest daughter of some dear friends of mine) living in India right now. She is working with a couple who is raising the 70+ daughters of Hindu temple prostitutes in their town. I received an email from this young woman the other day asking me the following question:

Do you believe in Calvin's theory of predestination? It was presented to me here by one of the pastors and I have NO WAY of proving it wrong, but it seems SO wrong to me! If you have time and interest give me your thoughts.

Here is what I wrote back to my young friend ...


Hello friend. Calvin's doctrine of predestination, and it's twin and necessary sister, the doctrine of election, have so many varieties to it, that to ask a pastor, a theologian, a religion professor, or a Sunday School teacher to describe them would be like asking these different people to describe the best flavor in the world, or the sound of rain, or to paint a picture of what they think Jesus looked like. A whole slew of answers would come. And the funny thing is that Calvin would probably argue with all of them. And he certainly didn't believe these doctrines were theories ... for him they were iron-clad doctrines that he was willing to stake his life on.

This is a theological question that followers of Jesus Christ have talked about, argued over, been divided over, and even hated one another over for centuries. And the reason why? Because both emphases are found in God's Word.

THE DOCTRINE OF FREE WILL | God has given us a free will and that we either respond to His invitation to come into a relationship with Him or we don't (most Quakers, Methodists, many Pentecostals, and Nazarenes find their beliefs lingering on this side of the theological fence).

THE DOCTRINES OF PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION | God is sovereign and chooses some people ahead of time to be in relationship with Him, and chooses others to not be in relationship with Him (most Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Free, and independent Bible Churches find their beliefs lingering on this side of the theological fence).

God's Word has plenty of verses that seem to speak to both sides of this theological coin that this pastor has asked you to spin (for his pleasure?). GOOGLE "free will, predestination, and election" and you'll find a curiously solid slew of Biblical answers for both. But here's the deal my friend. Why can't both be true? This is one of the things I love about Quakers. We're not afraid of paradox. We don't believe that being silenced and dumbfounded by the awesomeness and the "otherness" of God shows a lack of conviction, a lack of theological expertise, or a lack of convincement.

It's not the easy way out to sit on the fence on these two seemingly oppositional doctrines. In fact it's the height of humility, to admit that God is God and we're not. And that while we see the two sides of this theological coin spoken of throughout Scripture (in the law, in the history, in the wisdom, in the prophets, in the minor prophets, in the Gospels, and in the Epistles), we don't have to have a certainty about one being right and one being wrong in order to feel confident about our theology.

Letting both sides of this God-coin be true is just more evidence to me that there are things about God that human beings will never be able to understand in ways that solve all the doctrinal riddles that people as smart as Calvin and Wesley are able to dig out of God's Word.

But when seeking what I believe about this and other theological conundrums, a couple of the questions I always ask myself are ...
  1. To believe this proposed doctrine before me, do I need to "unbelieve" anything I believe about the character or the nature of God, Jesus Christ, or God's Holy Spirit?
  2. To believe this proposed doctrine before me, do I need to be talked into it by somebody who is acting smarter and wiser than me for the purpose of getting me to come over to their side of the argument?
Truth isn't confounding. It's liberating and nearly always ridiculously simple. I want to be teachable. But I don't want to be naive, nor do I want to be spiritually sucker-punched into adopting something as a belief just because it makes sense to someone who everyone else believes is "really smart." Remember, that almost all the interactions Jesus had with people who were "really smart" ... especially "really smart religious people" didn't turn out all that well for the ones with the degrees.

Calvin? Wesley? Augustine? Luther? Smart guys to be sure. Lovers of Jesus to be sure. But don't let their "convincement" feel like a noose around your faith-neck. Let Jesus and God's Word teach you, and lead you into all truth. Am I saying we don't need to let God use "teachers" in our lives, and that we don't need to adopt a Credo, or a Statement of Faith that makes sense to us, but that we can grow with? Of course not.

In fact, the book of PROVERBS says over an over again that the definition of a fool is "one who rejects instruction." But learn from people you know and trust, in whom you see the character and the nature of God alive and growing. And don't let people lure you into theological swamps just to prove something to you about themselves and their beliefs, or to get you to trust them and their cleverness.

The Apostle Paul uses the word "predestination" in his writings. My favorite time is when he says in ROMANS 8:29 that "those God foreknew He predestined to be conformed into the family-likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ." And the reason I'm drawn to this verse about predestination among all the others, is because here God's "predestination" is linked to God's "foreknowledge."

In other words, God doesn't make us choose Him or reject Him. But because God is beyond the "chronos" time that you and I as human beings are so easily trapped in (the passing of time that's measured by the ticking of the hands on a clock), and because God is fully engaged in "kronos" time, or "God-time", He sees the beginning, the middle, and the end of all human history as happening at the exact same moment. And so while God sees the decisions you and I will make, He doesn't make us make the choices we have made, are making, and will make. In other words ...
  • The invitation to come into the Kingdom of God is mailed to everyone who ever lived (JOHN 3:16).
  • But not everybody who opens the invitation up and reads it will make the choice to come to the party.
God gets this. It breaks His heart that some won't come to the party. But the party goes on ... and is going on right now. Welcome to the party.

If my words have become somewhat rambling, I am sorry. I'm tired. But know that I love you. And know that I'm glad that you are where you are, and that you're doing what Jesus has asked you to do. The center of God's will is the hot spot on the dance floor at the party. Dance on my little sister. Dance on. Good night and Godspeed.




Silverback said...

Nice work Greg - well written on the 'middle way' of intellectual humility that embraces the totality of scripture.

Kathy Rasberry said...

Hi Gregg,
I wish I had recently read this when I was asked this same type of question a few months ago! I tried to articulate that God's time isn't linear as we live and breathe in and so that plays a huge part in trying to understand if there truly is freewill or not. But my daughter much like your friend in India - felt that her God, a God of Love, Forgiveness, Grace, and Mercy would never not love or not want anyone to join in His Kingdom. I will definitely be reopening this discussion and re-read the scriptures you mention.
God Bless,

ECB said...

You said you were comfortable with the paradox but by defining foreknowledge the way you have you have eliminated the paradox. God chooses because he see's is not predestination it is endorsing of our choice.

I agree Calvin would greatly disapprove of the way his disciples have abused and misused the doctrine of predestination.

But to live with the paradox means we say that he chooses and we are responsible. Both are true and near as I can tell no human explanation can tell me how they meet, but by faith I believe they do in God.

I guess for me the question is what are the two truths for? Why does God tell us about election? Why does he give us free will?
The "How do they work together?" is above my pay grade.

Your friend,

Jami Hart said...

Hi Greg,
Just found you as a suggested friend on Facebook.
Somewhere in the past I read that someone had said that "AND" is the holy conjunction.
It seems so true to me when contemplating all of our false divisions.

Gregg Lamm said...


Unclear about how come your comment suggestion didn't show up in my box until now, but here it is, and here's my return words.

You're right of course. We both are. I hope you get back out here soon. It will be good to see you. Blessings to you brother. Godspeed.



David said...

Here are my two cents...

Romans 8: 29-30 (NASB) says:

29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

The Greek word for "foreknew" is "Proginosko,"which literally means "to have knowledge before hand." The second part of the word, "Ginosko," means to have knowledge of in an intimate way (as a woman and a man know each other sexually). Thus, the word means to know before time in an intimate way. This verse cannot mean that God looks down the annals of time and somehow bases his predestination on a knowledge of what we are going to do. That's simply not what this is talking about.

The other thing that must be said is that the doctrines of election and predestination are not "Calvin's theories." They are biblical terms and concepts that are ALL OVER the Bible in the same way that human responsibility is ALL OVER the Bible. Calvin didn't invent them, nor did he emphasize them to the degree many of his followers did and do. In fact, Calvin said that if you try to reconcile God's election and human responsibility you'll enter a labyrinth from which you'll never escape.

I think that the sad thing is that so many Christians today are afraid of the doctrines of election and predestination -- so afraid of them that they avoid discussing them at all. Interestingly, the biblical writers (e.g., Ephesians 1) often use election and predestination as points of praise and comfort for the Christian. If I am in the kingdom because of what God has done via His electing grace, NOTHING can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8: 38-39).

Let us sing with St. Paul this beautiful song of grace and love:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding... (Ephesians 1: 3-8)

Dave Hansen