Thursday, November 24, 2011

I have just looked at my diary for the next few days and have realised that there is not going to be the time to work on the series of posts I had planned on predestination.  However, in my last post I referred to my friend Ben Witherington's blog and his discussion there of free-will. I tried to give a reponse to it both here and in the Comments section.  In the Comments section of Ben's blog, there has been further discussion between Ben.  I would like to take the discussion further here.

This is the link to the post:

Bible and Culture

This is what I wrote as a comment on Ben's post:

Hi Ben,

But even on your view of pre-venient grace, it still means that God chooses some and not others: those to whom He extends pre-venient grace to make it possible for them to make a choice. And once you allow God the right to decide who gets to make a choice, then you are vulnerable to exactly the same criticisms that you make against those of us who believe in predestination!

Thank you for your blog. It is always interesting and stimulating!


This is Ben's reply:

Hi Ross.

Wrong. God extends prevenient grace to everyone.


I did follow up with another comment, but that has not appeared in the Comments!

I was, I must confess, much surprised by Ben's response, not so much because he said I was wrong.  Being wrong, after all, is always a possibility in this life!  But rather by his assertion that God extends prevenient grace to everyone.  This means, on Ben's view, that everyone is being offered the grace they need to enable them to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.  As Ben points out in his post, without it no-one can respond.

Thanks to God's generous pre-venient grace, then, every Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or whoever they may be, is being offered the chance to respond to the good news.  However, because in many cases no-one is telling them what the good news is, although they are now able to respond, there is nothing for them to respond to.  It also means that the grace of God has been offered them in vain, and it hardly seems to be their fault that it is!

This illustrates, I think, the problem faced by those who want to hold to free-will and a Biblical understanding of the human condition.  They need God to enable the will to be free to respond, but they cannot limit those whom God enables in this way for you then end up with a form of predestination because God is choosing whom to enable.  The problem occurs because it means that God is enabling people without also telling them what it is he is enabling them to do, which seems more than a trifle bizarre.  

The only way round this that I can see for those wanting to hold this position is to argue that God extends pre-venient grace when the Gospel is preached to all those hearing it preached. This inevitably means that God does not extend his pre-venient grace to all.  It also raises the question of who decides who gets to hear?  If it is us who decides, then that makes it all a bit of a lottery when it comes to salvation and gives us the power to decide not only who gets to hear, but also who gets to receive pre-venient grace.

Alternatively, you have to say God chooses whom we are sent to preach the good news to, which means, however generously, that God is still choosing some and not others, which brings us back to where we started.

What I am arguing is that you have the following choices: 

1.  that the grace of God is offered to all to enable the to respond, even though all will never get chance to respond simply because all will never get to hear, and so God's grace is, in the majority of cases, in vain

2.  that who receives the grace of God is made into a lottery dependent on whom we decide to offer it to

3.  you have a form of predestination in which God chooses, in some way, those who get to respond to his grace

For those taking the Bible seriously, I see no alternative to 3. Surely, it is only because we are so against the idea of God choosing some and not others and so addicted to the idea of human freedom that we resist it!  

In the series I have planned, I want to think about what such a belief in predestination should look like.  I hope to start after the weekend!

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