Thursday, 18 June 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I was chatting to an old and good friend at Elim Conference. Somehow the conversation led to me explaining that I tended to be a bit Calvinistic in my outlook. Believe it or not we then began to discuss how we can make real choices if God predestines things - especially salvation.

Here's how I explained my position. Tell me what you think.

Human responsibility and divine sovereignty are like the parallel tracks of a railway line. The train needs both to get to its destination.

Our decisions and God's sovereign will are both vital components in salvation. But like the railway track, they run in parallel, neither cancelling out the other, and both needed to get us to our final destination.


Kevin said...

Do you draw any distinction between God's will for all to be saved and a more specific salvific will bearing on an individual?

Also can you have one track without the other that causes a derailment?

James said...

I think I do. Not entirely comfortable with it and haven't found a way to explain it that I think is helpful. Perhaps the subject of another post!


The Railway Owner has made two tracks for his purposes to ride on. One of those tracks can get damaged and cause a derailment.Fortunately, the Owner has a very skilled Engineer who makes sure the damaged track gets mended, so that the carriages can travel back to their Owner.

Thanks for the comments Kevin. We could have a lot of fun with this!

Kevin said...

I always thought that predestination meant a person's decision to trust in Jesus somehow rested singularly on God's will. I'm getting more of a monorail in my mind's eye....

Also if a rail can be damaged it seems to cast doubt over the efficacy of God's will?

Werewolf Dude said...

My personal view is that salvation is by free will, but our choice is already known. God knows all that is going to happen so he already knows our choices.

In going with God's plans even when we try to work against them he can work them to his good. Isn't there a scripture about God working all things to his good, for those who love him?

Graeme said...

Wow Kevin, now your a reverend your throwing your theological weight around, but I must say you raised some good points, I think we can take the analogy to far and cause the purpose of the blog to be derailed :-)
but as we're discussing it I'd like to add my own responce in there, don't know if it will help or not but here goes.

I feel that I might emphasise the sovereignty of God too much over free will, but currently this is how I see it.
God's will compels us to act and to "choose" the paths we do. I see every act we choose as a response (in some way) to an action of God's be that his creation of our bodies(including our brain chemistry) or His desion to put certain people in our lives. I believe that God is involved with every decision of your life whether or not you try to include Him in them or not, yes God's voice and will can be stated more clearly at certain times. I think that we don't fully understand free will or our arrogance and total depravity and wanting to be in control, and our pride in wanting to "make choices for ourselves". obviously you can take this too far, by taking it to an extreme, by saying doesnt that mean we are just robots, I would counter that with the three laws of robotics, and say no.
I feel we do get to choose but if your uncomfortable with God calling all the shots I'd want to know why? and its probably because you don't see the complete love of God(who can fully).

Kevin said...

A person's experience of salvation certainly seems to promote the idea of free will. But the most convincing and comprehensive explanations of scripture seem to suggest otherwise...

MikeK said...

Is'nt a free will just another monorail? In what sense is a human will free to choose? How could we be slaves to sin and have a free will at the same time (Romans 6:17)? And if we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2v1), how could the dead be free to choose when they are dead? Moreover, how could Paul say that our being made alive (Eph 2:5) was the result of God's incomparably great power (Eph 1:19) if our will is free? Surely there are two rails, as James has suggested (Philippians 2:12 and 13)?

James said...

Guys - enjoying reading your thoughts and arguments. Mike - welcome! Your first time with us I think - just when we were talking about railways.

Don't wish to kill further debate, but there are aspects of issues like this that we simply have to accept as a revelation from God and acknowledge that our best attempts to explain or provide analogies are limited and even limiting.

Still, great fun to tease out the issues and the arguments.

Kevin said...

Kaboom! Mike enters the fray.
Kapow! Mike jabs with a Romans quote.
Bif! Bif! Bif! Mike follows through with three quotes from Ephesians.
Crash! Mike finishes it off with a left and right hook with two quotes from Philippians.
They think it's all over. It is now...

MikeK said...

Two rails? ...Jesus led capitives in His train!

James said...

"Two rails? ...Jesus led capitives in His train!" Lol. Very good. Now I realise that my illustration is biblical through and through.

Just waiting now for a battery of texts emphasising the need to "choose" Christ...

Keith said...

My comments with KAnswer: before them;
Mike asked:In what sense is a human will free to choose? How could we be slaves to sin and have a free will at the same time (Romans 6:17)?
KAnswer:We can wish something but lack the power to do it. Paul in Romans 7 could write of the conflict between what he wished to do ... live holy & what he lacked the 'power' to do ... live holy - the answer being Romans 8v1ff

Mike asked:And if we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2v1), how could the dead be free to choose when they are dead?
Kanswer: Here we touch on questions of God's soverignty & mans free will ... I would affirm both with the caveat that God has chosen to allow freewill. The OT shows Israel & Judah to defy God's desired will ... while at the same time God's soverign purposes are brought to pass.

Mike asked: Moreover, how could Paul say that our being made alive (Eph 2:5) was the result of God's incomparably great power (Eph 1:19) if our will is free?
Keithanswer: Again ... one can wish something but lack the power. Nowone can boast of their saving faith as it is the gift of God. All enter salvation helpless & undeserving. Having a free will means being able to grieve the Holy Spirit & turn again to sin. It doesn't mean that God won't find a way to turn someone back by changed circumstances or conviction ... but it does mean that God allows a no - the warnings of Hebrews 6 & the twice dead of Jude ... that Jesus could weep over Jerusalems refusal to accept him over the previous millenia when as God the son he longed to comfort & protect a sinful rebellious people.

Regardless, of all of this let us keep in mind that the greatest theologian is the devil ... but he is still a devil. Walk a holy life & love God and your brothers & sisters as you should ... & worry about the chicken & egg after the world is converted!

MikeK said...

Keith's remarks are interesting and cue some important considerations about free will.

My own view is that fallen man's will is not free to choose, which is highlighted by Keith's observation that someone can wish something but not have the power to do it.

That does not mean that we do not choose.

Keith appeals to Romans 7, which is a well debated text: was Paul speaking of his experience before he became a follower of Jesus or was he speaking AS a follower of Jesus?

Ben Witherington comments* that Paul's technique in Romans 7 is impersonation, a rhetorical technique that involves the assumption of a role. This is because Paul's target audience was an oral one not a literate one.

The implication of this is that Paul was taking the role of someone who "wished" (Keith's term) but lacked the power to do it. If so, Paul was describing what it is like to not have free will.

Keith takes up my comments on Ephesians. It is important to note that in chapter 2 Paul was illustrating how much power it took to raise an unsaved person from spiritual death, but the later passages that refer to grieving the Spirit are about living as a follower of Jesus.

I was guilty of the same (!) when I quoted Philippians 2. Philippians 2 is about living as a follower of Jesus ("work out YOUR salvation") not about someone who is yet in their sins.

MikeK said...

Whoops! I forgot to give the * source of Ben Witherington's observation: Ben Witherington III, Paul's Letter to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2004. Page 179.