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One would be hard pressed to find in the history of the Church – or the pages of Scripture, any notion that God – as the rightful Creator and Owner of all that exists, does not exercise sovereignty (rule/governance/control) over His Creation as the means to seeing that His plans, promises and prophecies are accomplished. How exactly God does that – or what level of success He is able to achieve in regard to His plans, promises and prophecies, does not enjoy the same consensus. Within the Evangelical Church there exists two opposing views. Because they are so popular, it behooves us to not only understand them, but also reject them, as neither represents the view presented in Scripture (the view I call, “God the Great Shepherd”).

Theistic Determinism

All things – including the decisions, actions and paths of humans and angels, are predetermined to the degree that free-will cannot exist. Our lives are instead fixed in eternity past versus being the result of our free choices in the present. As such, our future fates – or eternal states, are also fixed or predetermined (e.g. Calvinistic election: those going to heaven or hell were decided before we were created). The reasoning behind such thinking is that by allowing any level of free-will you are inviting the possibility of God failing to accomplish His will in all things. He must therefore preprogram all things in His Creation to secure His intended outcome[1].

1.1. Who is crazy enough to believe this heresy (besides RC Sproul)?

Anyone claiming to be Reformed or Calvinistic since this was the view of many of the Protestant Reformers (e.g. John Calvin, Martin Luther[2]). This is also the view of John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, The Gospel Coalition and Ligonier Ministries, denominations such as the PCA, OPC, CREC, and ARBCA or seminaries such as Master Seminary, Westminster Seminaries, Reformed Theological Seminaries and The Southern Baptist Seminary. This was our view for over 10 years (I went to Reformed Theological Seminary where RC Sproul was a professor!).

1.2. Why should you view it as crazy and heretical?

1.2.1. B/C it makes God the author of sin and evil.

(Gen 6:5-7; Jer 7:30-34; Eze 18:23, 33:11; Mat 23:37-38; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:4 w/1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 3:9).

1.2.2. B/C it would mean that we are not responsible for our actions.

We are not victims of fate, but instead the makers of our own destiny. We have free-wills/choices and are therefore culpable/responsible for our actions. No one made us sin. We are without excuse. (Gen 3:12-18; Deu 30:19; Lam 3:37-39; Eze 18:20; Rom 1:19-20; Joh 15:22, 24-25; Jam 1:13-15).

1.2.3. B/C if that were true, then justice would not be just.

God’s judgment of us as just, righteous or impartial is dependent on us possessing free-wills (Eze 18:30-32; 1Pe 1:17; Rom 2:5b-11; Ecc 12:14; Isa 59:18; Zec 1:4; Joh 5:28-29; Co 5:9-10, 11:5; Rev 20:11-15. This [btw] is also the reason for God’s instruction in Deu 17:6 and 24:16).

1.2.4. B/C in Scripture, God reacts and plans according to the actions and potential actions of people.

(Ex 32:7-14; Jon 3:1-10; Jer 18:7-10; Exo 13:17; In this respect, God also genuinely rewards and gives praise to people – e.g. Gen 6:7, 22:12; Mat 25:21-23, 31-40; Rev 3:4; btw – Num 23:19).

1.2.5. B/C the early church also viewed theistic determinism as heresy[3].

1.2.6. B/C theistic determinism is not much different than the view held by many popular atheists.

(e.g. the “Four Horsemen Of Atheism”: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett all believe in determinism: free will is an illusion. Everything instead functions only on the basis of causality[4]).

1.2.7. B/C God’s plans, promises or prophecies do not require it to be accomplished.

To assume that God (whose knowledge and power is unlimited) cannot achieve His purposes (what He has “predestined” to do) without taking away our free-wills is to view Him as inferior to humans beings since we can (and are oftentimes required) to achieve a particular outcome in relation to other human beings though both our power and knowledge is extremely limited (e.g. Parents in re: to their children – 1Ti 3:3-4 = If such requirements/expectations were not possible [due to free-wills remaining intact], then the requirement itself becomes unjust). Those believing that God must pre-order/preprogram all things before they take place (i.e. remove any possibility of free-will choices) in order to accomplish His plans, promises and prophecies, are therefore believing in a god much smaller than the One presented in the pages of Scripture.

CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: Determinism (the regarding view of Calvinists and Atheists alike) is not the view presented in Scripture. And neither is the other view held by Evangelicals. What other heresy God’s sovereignty do they embrace?

[1] “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” – RC Sproul

2“This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that a man’s free-will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have always maintained in my writings.” – Martin Luther

[3] 1)“Let some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, then neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions…We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestinated that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.” – Justin Martyr (Christian apologist, 100-165 A.D.) ; 2)“Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.” – Clement (Bishop of Alexandria, 150-200 A.D.) ; 3)“We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God [He is not its author]. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” – Tatian (Christian apologist, 120-180 A.D.); 4)“This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered my children together, and you would not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the precepts of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God…And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice…If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?…But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” – Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon, 130-200 A.D.); 5)“Men…have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless…” – Athenagoras (Christian apologist, 150-190 A.D.); 6)“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man.” – Melito (Bishop of Smyrna, 100- 180 A.D.); 7)“I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature. For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.” – Tertullian (Christian apologist, 155-225 A.D.); 8)“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…There are, indeed, innumerable passages in the Scriptures which establish with exceeding clearness the existence of freedom of will.” – Origin (Christian theologian, 185-254 A.D.) ; 9)“Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” – Methodius (Slavic missionary, 260-315 A.D.); 10)“The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to us the thought of fornication, if you will, you can reject it. For if you were a fornicator by necessity then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.” – Cyril of Jerusalem (Christian theologian, 312-386 A.D.); 11)“All is in God’s power, but so that our free-will is not lost…it depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose the good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our free-will may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help…It is ours to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.” – John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, 347-407 A.D.); 12)“He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” – Augustine (Bishop of Hippo and adopted saint of the Evangelical/Calvinistic Reformers, 354-430 A.D.).

[4] “The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede [the criminal’s] conscious decisions, reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill)