Five Questions about Predestination – #5 Why?

Question: Why was the biblical doctrine of predestination controversial in New Testament times?

Answer: Because God’s plan of salvation included all people, not just Jews.

The Calvinist concept of predestination is a controversial topic in our day. Its controversy lies in the fact that God has limited the possibility of salvation to a limited number of individuals. This of course means that those who were not predestined to eternal life have no chance of being saved. This limiting of the offer of God’s grace to a relatively few number of elect individuals, while at the same time unconditionally condemning billions of souls to damnation, causes people to reflect poorly on the character of God. For this reason, Calvinistic predestination is at the center of many heated debates in the Church, both now and in history.

One of the most famous passages used to defend Calvinistic predestination is Romans chapter 9. In that chapter the Apostle Paul is obviously in a heated debate about God’s right to choose who will be saved and how. Calvinists imagine that the Paul is arguing with people who just can’t accept the idea that God would limit his salvation to certain individuals. For them, he is defending the sovereign right of God to unconditionally choose some souls for eternal life, and leave the rest to perish in their sins. They would have him say, “God has the right to make salvation exclusive and limit it to those he chooses by his divine and unconditinal choice.”

But the question at hand is not, “Why is Calvinistic predestination controversial?” but, “Why was biblical predestination controversial?” The answers to these two questions are at odds with one another. Calvinistic predestination is often debated because it limits the possibility of salvation to a small percentage of people, that is, it is very exclusive. But the biblical doctrine of predestination was such a hot topic in its day because it made salvation possible for all people, that is, it was inclusive.

In Romans 9 Paul was in a heated debate about God’s right to choose who could be saved and how. But he was not arguing with people who believed God should offer salvation to the whole world. He was arguing with the Jewish people of his day that believed salvation was the exclusive right of Israel. They believed that only those who were part of the Jewish nation, or who became part of it through circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, could be saved. Paul said they were greatly mistaken. He explains that salvation is open to all people, and it is not based on human ancestry or obedience to the Law, but on faith in Jesus Christ. After making his arguments Paul summarizes, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Rom. 9:30-32).

Paul argues that God is not required to limited salvation to Israel. He has the right to offer his salvation all nations. By making faith the means of receiving his salvation instead of the Old Testament Law, he made eternal life accessible to all. The large majority of Jews in Paul’s day could not accept this. They refused to believe that God would accept Gentiles as his holy people through faith in Jesus Christ. This denial led them refuse the Gospel, and the eternal life that was offered through it.

To them Paul says, “But who are you, O Man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” With this he defends God’s right to make salvation open to all those who believe. With this rebuke, he also defends God’s right to judge the Jewish nation for their refusal of the Gospel.

Paul is defending the right of God to decide who and how someone will be saved. But he is not arguing for those who say God limits salvation to a certain number of individuals. And he is not defending the doctrine that states that God chooses people unconditionally. Instead, Paul is arguing against those who thought salvation was the exclusive right of a limited number of people. He is defending God’s right to offer salvation to all people on the basis of faith, instead of ancestry or obedience to the Law of Moses.

But Paul was not the first one to present this controversial view of salvation to the Jewish nation. Jesus started the controversy when he declared, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We can’t imagine anyone finding this statement objectionable. But to the Jews of Jesus’ day it was unthinkable that God loved the whole world, including the Gentiles. And even in our day there are still those who try to limit the love of God and this universal offer of salvation. They argue that God does not love the whole world, nor does he sincerely offer salvation to all; but his saving love and his offer, accompanied with the enabling grace needed to accept it, are limited only to a certain number of chosen individuals. In Paul’s day biblical predestination was controversial among the Jews who thought salvation was the exclusive right of small group of individuals. And in our day biblical predestination is still controversial among Calvinists who think that God has limited his love and his offer of salvation to a small percentage of mankind.

9 thoughts on “Five Questions about Predestination – #5 Why?

  1. Christopher,
    I want to thank you very much for your wonderful web-page.
    I’m sure you’ve received plenty of hate mail.
    So I thank you for standing in Christ.

    If I may, I would like to point you to something William Lane Craig pointed out which, when I heard, helped me to recognize how Calvinists can have a world-view which incorporates a multitude of idiosyncrasies and biblical contradictions, all which make perfect sense to them.

    Imagine if you will, a 20 year old college student facing his college professor teaching a course on Darwinian evolution, and suggesting to that professor that he consider Darwinian evolution a belief system based more on blind faith than Science. You can imagine the response of the professor.
    His mind is totally engulfed in a world-view based on belief in Darwinian theology. The probability of breaking through such an entrenched world-view is quite minute.

    It’s the same way with Calvinists. They are so fully indoctrinated in their world-view, the probability of breaking through with any divergent thought would be exactly the same.

    Imagine a theology which has as its foundational corner-stone a philosophy. And this philosophy is THE most *SACRED* of its tenets. That philosophy is called “universal divine determinism”.

    There are many pagan religions that have this philosophy as a foundational tenet.
    In the religion of Islam, a Muslim is considered apostate unless he forcefully asserts that Allah predetermines the fate of every man. Plato believed that the supreme god was Zeus, and the Greeks taught that every man’s fate was predetermined by the “gods”. Basic Buddhism has the same tenet, accept the divine entity is non-personal in the form of karma.

    Consider a Christian theology that has the philosophy of universal divine determinism as its foundational cornerstone and you have discovered the very essence of Calvinism. In fact I submit that if you remove this element from this theology, you will remove Calvinism’s core unique distinctiveness.

    This allows us to understand why it is so critical for Calvinist exegesis to run ruff-shod over scriptures like 1 Tim 2:4, Acts 7:51, Rev 3:20 and Deuteronomy 30:19…….all scripture which informs us of human contingency and human agency. Any evidence within the body of scripture which does not affirm universal divine determinism must be neutralized.
    Universal divine determinism is *SACRED*.
    My sincere thanks!

    1. thank u for ur encouragement and ur thoughts on the subject of calvinism. i believe u hit the nail on the head:) it is for that reason that i write not for calvinists but for christian disciples with a biblical view of God,but who are thrown into confusion by the bold and persuasive claims of calvinism. it is easier to avoid error than escape from it,as u pointed out.
      As for hate mail, i am very grateful that most of my calvinist brethren have been respectful in their challenges and questions. Though calvinism tries to lead disciples into closing their hearts towards their brothers that reject the doctrines of limited grace, the holy spirit’s work in their character often leads them in to selfrestraint and patience those of us that view God differently.
      Keep the comments coming when u have something to share. most who read the posts are interested in the comments as well.

  2. great! glasseyedave. i agree with you.
    the church has polluted the word of God, the leaders are always first held accountable for it. if the leaders (esp. pastors and teachers) misread / misinterprets the Scripture (just because they believe in a certain theology, such as Luther’s or Calvin’s or others’), the followers will be misled also, in this way, errors multiply.

    i understand gibson527’s feeling about the truth interpreted by Chris above. many many many Christians in China also have the same feelings, coz Calvinism is taught and so popular in many many churches and influences many people.

    no doubt, Christ is the Author/Founder and Perfecter of our faith, in this sense, faith is NOT from ourselves. however, here is the issue: is faith itself something that we do or God does for us? the fact is, we do the “FAITH”, we BELIEVE, NOT God believes for us. then can i boast about my believing? WHY NOT?! if i boast before everyone, and say “because i BELIEVE Christ has died on the Cross (for me), and been resurrected from the dead (for me), i.e. the grace of God, therefore i am saved. ” (cf.Rom.10:9-10), will i get any glory from this salvation? NO. who get glory? God. so FAITH/BELIEVING is the only thing that we can do and boast about to bring glory to God. that is why God chose the way of faith/believing, NOT the way of obeying law to save people, so that HE may always gain the glory which belongs to Him.
    if so, why are we so nervous about our faith/believing, so that we pass this job/responsibility to God? God says all the time,”YOU’ve gotta BELIEVE/HAVE FAITH in me, so that i may save this sense, YOU have the ultimate say in your salvation. if you dont believe, i can do nothing to save you.”

    i found many Calvinists, and many reformed theology believers, are afraid to talk about or even think about man’s DOING the faith, coz they are so afraid that they might take away God’s glory by doing so. but God intends US to DO SOMETHING/MAKE EFFORTs (e.g. REPENTING OF SINS) to BELIEVE in Christ, that salvation for us may be perfected.

    comment on Chris’ post: so in the book of Romans, Paul is actually defending God’s sovereignty AGAINST both Jews and Calvinists, even though Calvinists are still thinking and believing that they are defending God’s sovereignty. CALVINISM GOES AGAINST GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. this is an amazing truth.

  3. Thank you for your perspective. I will certainly think on these things. I am learning to take a step back and not have to know all the answers. Maybe this is one of the mysteries that we will not fully understand this side of eternity. Each side of the arguement leads to levels of questions that are difficult to answer and/or accept. To me the problem with the Calvinist position is that it leads me to have to accept reprobation which is a tough pill to swallow and a hurdle I have not stepped over yet. On the other hand, to accept the other view is to accept that we have the ultimate say in our salvation. I am not comfortable with this, for I would then have reason to boast if it is my faith that obtained salvation. In America, we are all without excuse, all have heard the gospel, yet many choose not to believe. Then we need to define what it is to believe anyway. I know many that have “devil faith”(James 2:19), and I don’t know that is going to be enough at the end of the day. We all agree it is by grace through faith that we are saved. By Grace through faith, that is something to think about. Thank you for your writings, I look forward to reading more from you. God Bless you and your family and the ministry that God has called you too. You are in my prayers.

    1. gibson527,

      You shouldn’t struggle with what Christopher is saying. Paul makes it clear in Romans what our grace is. It is not just grace to have our sins forgiven. It is grace that our old sin nature was hung on the cross with Christ. This is something we could not do for ourselves. It is grace that our old sin nature was buried with Christ, this is something we could not do. It is the grace of God that raised us to a new life in Christ Jesus, this too is something we could not do on our own. It is the grace of God that has given us His Holy Spirit, of course we can not do this either. It is the grace of God that we are new creations in Christ Jesus, no longer slaves to sin but rather slaves to righteousness. It is the grace of God that we no longer have to try to be righteous by obeying the Law, we are righteous because we live in the Spirit.

      If a man goes to church his whole life and does not commit adultry he has kept that commandment. But if he has lust in his heart he has broken the standard of Christ and commited adultry in his heart. But if he is actually born again, his sin nature is crucified on the cross and remains in the grave. He is raised to a new life in the Spirit where Christ takes lust out of the man. Think about this. In what fruit of the Spirit does a person violate the Law… none. We fulfil the Law in all righteousness when we are of the Spirit just as scripture says.

      So now think about believers who say they believe but they walk according to the flesh and not the Spirit. They show that they are not saved by the renewing of the Holy Spirit as it says in Titus. They are those who by their fruit or if you will no works to accompany what they claim they have not more than that “devil faith”.

      This is how scripture can talk of grace, which is far more than just our sins being forgiven as explained above. And at the same time speak of our actions determining where we will go. If we claim to be in Him and live to the flesh and sin we decieve ourselves as John says. This is why Scripture in Rom 8:1 doesn’t say there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (those who only have their sins forgiven). It says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who walk according to the Spirit (grace through our old man on the cross, our old man in the grave, a new man raised with Christ Jesus, grace that we have the Spirit of righteousness in us) and not according to the flesh.

      I fear at times that the church has so polluted the word of God that we can not recognize it when we read it for ourselves. I also fear, because of this, the great falling away has already taken place.

      I am convinced that the church has not really responded to the grace of God when we statistically look just like the world, just as much divorce, pornography, greed, lust, etc in the church as outside the church. Yet we think we are experiencing the grace of God.

      As Hebrews says if we keep on sinning after we have the knowledge of the truth there is no sacrifice for sins left. I am convinced the church hasn’t yet heard the truth and responded to it when we preach the doctrine of demons that teaches grace is only having our sins on the cross and not our old sin nature.


    2. Christie,
      Thanks for ur comments. I agree there are many issues to wrestle with in this topic. Honesty and diligence are our best weapons as we search it out. If we seek honestly and dont give up God will lead us into all truth.

      Im sure u hav thoroughly thought thru the issues u struggle with, so the following comments are more for other readers than for u. But if u havent noticed these points, i offer them to u as well.

      The following verses speak to the issue u mentioned. Many times those in the calvinst camp hav confused people by telling them that if we are saved thru faith, and faith is largely based on our free choice, then we are saving ourselves by faith. But the bible teaches we are saved by grace, not by faith. Faith is the means of accepting the grace. God chose faith as the means of receiving his grace because no one can boast about that they were so lost and sinful that they had to depend fully on God for salvation. A peasant girl cud not boast that she accepted the princes marriage proposal, she cud only boast in his love for her. Her acceptance did not make him choose her, his love did. In the same way our faith does not move god to save us, his grace did. Our boast is only in the grace of God. Faith is not contrary to grace, it receives it.

      For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
      Rom 4:2-5- abraham was saved thru faith not works so he cud not boast.

      That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham,
      Rom 4:16- salvation is thru faith so that it is by grace alone.


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