November 9, 2013

Bavinck vs. the Pelagians (or, Foreknowledge = Predestination)

The common Christian approach to reconciling God's predestination with human freedom is to say that God predestines based on his foreknowledge of free human actions. In his discussion of Pelagian views of divine providence, Herman Bavinck argues that divine foreknowledge must either be redundant, being fundamentally identical to predestination, or nonexistent. The choice, then, is between Predestination or Open Theism. He writes:
"Pelagianism, however, does not yet marshal its full strength when it opposes the general and special providence of God. To some extent it even recognizes this doctrine. But it comes out fighting especially when the eternal state of rational creatures, the particular decree of predestination, is at issue. Now, predestination is only a particular application of the counsel or providence of God. Just as we cannot separate the natural from the moral world, so neither can we point to a boundary line between the temporal condition of human creatures and their eternal state. With respect to the latter, however, Pelagianism has traded predestination for foreknowledge and described foreordination as the decree of God in which he determined either eternal blessedness or eternal punishment for people, depending on whether he foresaw their persevering faith or their undying unbelief. Now, however generally this view has been adopted in the Christian church (is it not the confession of all Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Remonstrant [Arminians], Anabaptist, and Methodist Christians?), it is nevertheless firmly contradicted by Scripture, religious experience, and theological reflection.
"In the first place, Scripture clearly teaches that faith and unbelief, salvation and perdition, are not just the objects of God's "bare foreknowledge" but especially also of his will and decree. God's foreknowledge (πρόγνωσις: Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2; c.f. Acts 2:23) is not a passive form of recognition, not a state of consciousness, but...a self-determination of God, prior to its realization in history, to assume a certain specific relation to the objects of his foreknowledge. It is most closely related to God's purpose (πρόθεσις), foreordination (προορίζω), and election (ἐκλογή), and is an act of his good pleasure (εὐδοκία). 
"Second,  it is the teaching of Scripture that faith cannot arise from within the heart of an unspiritual person (1 Cor. 2:14), that it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 1 Cor. 4:7) and therefore does not precede election but is its fruit and effect (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4-5; Acts 13:48). Third, it is the unanimous witness of all religious Christian experience that salvation, both in an objective and a subjective sense, is solely the work of God. Though in theory a person may be Pelagian, in the practice of the Christian life, above all in prayer, every Christian is an Augustinian. In that connection all glorying in self is excluded, and God alone is given the honor. Augustine, accordingly, was right when he said that the ancient church's faith in God's grace expressed itself in prayers rather than in its "little works." 
"Fourth, divine foreknowledge is certainly of such a kind that its object is known in advance as absolutely certain, and then it is identical with predestination. However, if its object is totally accidental and arbitrary, it cannot have been foreknown either. According to the teach of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches and even according to the Remonstrants - all of whom attempt to substitute foreknowledge for predestination - the number of those who believe and will be saved is just as fixed and certain as it is according to Augustine and Reformed theologians. Said Augustine: "The number of the elect is certain; it can neither be increased nor diminished." This is also the teaching of Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and all Catholic theologians, although they differ among themselves in that some derive the certainty of the outcome from the will, while others, such as Molina (et al.) derive it from the knowledge of God. In later years Lutheran theologians indeed made predestination depend on foreknowledge, yet they never questioned the certainty and immutability of the outcome. In numerous passages (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:24; 25:34; John 10:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Pet. 1:2-4) Scripture speaks in language so clear and strong, after all, that they can hardly deny this immutability.
"Formally, as well as materially, both in terms of quantity and quality, the number of the saved is unalterably fixed, according to the confession of all Christian churches. But when theologians recognize this fact and think it through, they have to equate foreknowledge with providence and predestination. In advance, with a foreknowledge that is eternal and immutable, God has known those who would believe. Given this foreknowledge, these people will also most certainly and infallibly come to faith and salvation in time. On this position there nowhere remains any room for "freedom" in the sense of chance and caprice. Foreknowledge, then, by definition includes predestination. If...one says that God foreknew the fortuitous precisely in its fortuitous character, one has reverted to Augustine's line of thought and consequently has no problem harmonizing freedom with predestination. The central question is this: Can these free and fortuitous events be know from eternity with absolute certainty?
"If the answer is yes, Augustine is right and the entire doctrine of foreknowledge is redundant. If the answer is no, one has to go on and also reject foreknowledge. In that case the outcome of world history is strictly fortuitous and as such remains incalculable and unknowable. Cicero, seeing this, denied foreknowledge as well. In later years he was followed by the Socinians, Remonstrants, Vorstius, and numerous modern theologians, who in the interest of maintaining the freedom of the human creature, adopted a kind of divine self-limitation in knowledge, will, and power.
"Christian churches, however, shrank from this conclusion. All of them confess God's providence and foreknowledge. All things happen in time as God eternally knew they would. The final result and the ways and means leading to it are established in God's providence. Thus considered, the doctrine of predestination is neither just a confession of the Reformed churches, nor a private opinion of Augustine and Calvin, but a dogma of the entire Christian church. Though there are differences in the name by which it is called and the manner in which it is presented, materially there is agreement: all Christian churches and theologians confess that all things exist, happen, and reach their destiny in accordance with God's eternal knowledge. In that sense, Augustine could rightly say: "There was never a time when the church of Christ did not hold the truth of this belief in predestination, which is now being defended with fresh concern against new heretics." Although the confessions differ in the degree of attention paid to this doctrine, they all have it. In fact, it can be said that, whether one thinks along Pelagian or Augustinian lines, the matter about which one thinks remains the same. History does not change. The facts are their interconnectedness in world history are as they are regardless of the true or false notions we entertain concerning them. The sole difference is this: Reformed Christians, with Scripture in their hands and Augustine as their leader, did not stop at the consideration of secondary causes but ventured to push on to faith in the primary cause, that is, the will of God, in which alone they experienced rest for their mind and life. The doctrine of predestination finds its invincible power and severity in the facts of world history interpreted by God's Word as the implementation of his eternal counsel. Although the doctrine itself is not harsh and severe, awesomely serious are the facts on which it is built. Pelagianism fails to satisfy the human mind for one reason alone: at every point in life and of the history of humankind it conflicts with reality - a reality that is awesome indeed. Pelagianism is a veneer that, though highly deceptive, in no way changes reality." (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol II, 377-379)

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