Our God The Great Shepherd – Part 3b

Two of the most debated questions in the history of the Church have been, “What does God’s sovereignty over us and the future look like?” and, “How does that control affect His promises and prophecies?” This series has exposed the error of the two most popular theories in the Church today (the Evangelical views of Theistic Determinism and Open Theism) and will now present the correct view. This view is called, “God the Great Shepherd” since (in the author’s opinion) this biblical metaphor best captures the truths it espouses.

God reacts, responds – and at times, changes His intentions or plans based on the actions or responses of people which means we are (at least in part) free[1] (Gen 6:7, 11:1-9, 22:12; Exo 32:7-14; Num 14:1-23, 16:20-26; Jug 2:18, 10:16; 2Chr 7:13-14; Psa 106:21-23; Jer 15:1,18:20; Jer 18:7-10; Jon 3:1-10; Amo 7:1-6; e.g. The length/quality of our lives – Pro 3:1-2, 9:10-11; 1Pe 4:9-12 w/Psa 34:12-16; Jesus’ death by betrayal – Mat 23:37 w/Luk 22:42 w/Act 2:23, 4:23-28 = God’s “definite plan”/“foreknowledge” after the Jews’ rejection[2]).

God doesn’t always know what we will do in the future which means the future is also (at least in part) unknown.

2.1. God responding/reacting to our actions/decisions strongly implies He doesn’t always know what we are going to do (Jer 18:7-10).

2.2. This however is confirmed by passages such as (Exo 13:17; Isa 63:7-10; Jer 3:6-7, 19-20, 26:1-6, 36:1-3; Eze 12:3; Mat 8:10).

2.3. It should be noted that if God does know everything about the future then the future is fixed according to what He knows. Which means the same is true for our decisions or actions in the present (they too are fixed rather than free) since it is the present that determines the future. This (once more) is not what the Bible teaches but instead Greek mythology (Fatalism).

2.4. If this were true, it would also mean that we are not responsible for our actions. We are instead victims. Such thinking makes a mockery of Scripture which establishes our responsibility (and therefore free will) through God’s commands, the conditions and consequences of those commands and the pleading of God and His prophets to keep those commands. Why plead for something we have no control over fulfilling? This kind of thinking also impinges on God’s most important attribute, His justice (Gen 18:19; Deu 16:20, 32:4).

God’s justice dictates that the majority of our actions and the events that make up the future be free and unknown.

3.1. If God is to be just in His judgment of us at the end of time, then it requires that the majority of our wills and the future be free and unknown since, “How can God commend/condemn us if the majority of what we did/did not do was out of our control because the future was pre-determined or fixed?”

3.2. The only time things could/would ever be fixed (rather than free) is if they have a direct bearing on God’s promises or prophecies (e.g. Joh 11:47-53 = Seeing the rejection of the Jews, God now moves Caiaphas to prophesy what will cause the Sanhedrin to seek His death).

3.3. What about God’s omniscience? How can God be said to be omniscient (all-knowing and all-wise) if the majority of the future is free and unknown? God’s omniscience doesn’t require He know all the future, only those aspects related to His future promises and prophecies.

God’s knowledge of the future is only in respect to His promises/prophecies and therefore a reflection of His omnipotence – not His omniscience.

4.1. Isaiah 40-48, that portion of Scripture dealing w/God’s knowledge of the future as proof that He is the true God of heaven and earth is not about His omniscience, but rather His omnipotence – i.e. that He has the power to declare what will be in the future and see that it comes to pass exactly as He declared it (e.g. Isa 46:8-11).

4.2. The above understanding of knowing the future (i.e. you only know what you have the power to guarantee will exist or come to pass) is the correct way to speak about the future since the term (“the future”) does not refer to something already realized or currently being realized as do the constructs we refer to as past and present. IOW: it is not about what is real (or realized) but what may (or will be). Which once more points not to omniscience, but again omnipotence: what God by His power will bring into existence/make real when that period of time becomes the present (e.g. Rom 4:17; Isa 42:8-9; Isa 48:3 = God’s knowledge of the future is the knowledge of His power to do in the future [or cause to come “to pass”] whatever He chooses).

4.3. Such omnipotence includes (once more) the ability to control/direct people when necessary (e.g. Gen 50:20; Pro 21:1 w/Isa 10:5-15; Also 2Ch 36:22-23 w/Ezr 1:1-2 w/Isa 44:24-28; Notice that God’s control/direction over the aforementioned individuals requires little – if any, of their free-will to be violated. They are influenced not coerced).

God’s ability to accomplish His promises and prophecies in the future does not require He know all things in respect to the future.

5.1. Theistic determinists (Calvinists) and Open Theists share one belief in common: if God doesn’t know everything about the future, then He cannot be counted on to accomplish His various promises prophecies.

5.2. This belief is not only alleviated but exposed as unintelligent once we consider:

5.2.1. God knows our present thoughts, intentions, and inclinations which means He can accurately predict/anticipate our actions and decisions before they are carried out (Pro 5:21; Gen 6:5; 2Ch 16:9; Mat 12:34b; 1Co 4:5; Isa 48:8; Isa 65:24; e.g. Deu 31:16 w/21).

5.2.2. God’s infinite knowledge and perfect wisdom in relation to all things in the present guarantee that all necessary contingencies are in place since the future cannot exist outside the events of the present (e.g. Exo 13:17; control present = control the future).

5.2.3. God’s infinite knowledge and perfect wisdom in relation to all things in the present guarantee that there is nothing we (or any other free-will creature) could do to thwart or trick God since the disparity between the creature and His Creator is immeasurable (Isa 55:8-9; Imagine a 300 qubit [quantum] computer [A computer theoretically able to possess more information than there are atoms in the universe] playing chess w/a three-year-old [The age a child is able to grasp the basics of chess; Computers btw have been beating chess grandmasters since the 90’s]. Is there any real chance that baby could ever do anything that would catch the quantum computer off guard or cause the baby to win? How much more would this be true in relation to God? The greatest computer ever built would still only be finite in what it knows and therefore imperfect in its wisdom. Which means in comparison to God it [the quantum computer] now takes the place of the baby).

CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: Like a great shepherd, God possesses more than enough power, knowledge, and wisdom in the present to lead His simple (by comparison) flock (of Creation) to the future He desires – one where His promises and prophecies are perfectly accomplished and realized. And this He does, without needing to violate the freedom of our wills. Our response? (Psa 23:1“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not worry.”).

[1] We have unimpeded control over what we do and the choices we make. They are not the result of coercion or causation – including God’s decree or pre-determination.

[2] One must be careful not to view those passages which employ the words “predestined” or “foreknowledge” as always referring to the fulfillment of something planned in the distant past. The same can be said about those references to OT passages in the NT that seem to indicate the fulfillment of former prophecy. In many cases, they did not exist (as prophetic) until they were realized (or used for such purposes) in their present or given context. As such, their main function is more confirmation that a person’s actions are consistent (or congruent) w/God’s established principles, prior workings, or history than the realization of ancient predictions (Mat 2:17, 4:14-16, 13:13-15, 27:9; Joh 12:37-38 w/Isa 53:1 w/Mat 23:37; e.g. Psa 41:4 w/9 w/Joh 13:18-19; e.g. Excerpt from my wife’s biography, “So that the Scripture would be fulfilled, my wife submitted to me in all things”. Is this not how Jam 2:21-23 views God’s prophetic words regarding Abraham?).

Our God The Great Shepherd – Part 3

Two of the most debated questions in the history of the Church have been, “What does God’s sovereignty over us and the future look like?” and, “How does that control affect His promises and prophecies?” This series has exposed the error of the two most popular theories in the Church today (the Evangelical views of Theistic Determinism and Open Theism) and will now present the correct view. This view is called, “God the Great Shepherd” since (in the author’s opinion) this biblical metaphor best captures the truths it espouses.

God reacts, responds – and at times, changes His intentions or plans based on the actions or responses of people which means that we are (at least in part) free[1].

(Gen 6:7, 11:1-9, 22:12; Exo 32:7-14; Num 14:1-23, 16:20-26; Jug 2:18, 10:16; 2Chr 7:13-14 Psa 106:21-23 Jon 3:1-10; Jer 15:1 & 18:20; Jer 18:7-10; Jon 3:1-10; Amo 7:1-6; e.g. The length/quality of our lives – Pro 3:1-2, 9:10-11; 1Pe 4:9-12 w/Psa 34:12-16; Jesus’ death by betrayal – Mat 23:37 and Luk 22:42 w/Act 2:23, 4:23-28 = God’s “definite plan” and “foreknowledge” after the Jews’ rejection[2]).

God doesn’t always know what we will do in the future which means the future is also (at least in part) unknown.

2.1. The fact that God is responding (or reacting) to our actions or decisions strongly implies that He doesn’t always know what we are going to do (again Jer 18:7-10; Luk 22:42).

2.2. This however is confirmed by passages such as (Exo 13:17; Isa 63:7-10; Jer 3:6-7, 19-20, 26:1-6, 36:1-3; Eze 12:3; Consider also Mat 8:10).

2.3. It should be noted that if God does know everything about the future then the future is fixed according to what He knows. Which means the same is true for our decisions or actions in the present (they too are fixed rather than free) since it is the present that determines the future. This (once more) is not what the Bible teaches but instead Greek mythology (Fatalism).

2.4. If this were true, it would also mean that we are not responsible for our actions. We are instead victims. Such thinking makes a mockery of Scripture which establishes our responsibility (and therefore free will) through God’s commands, the conditions and consequences of those commands and the pleading of God and His prophets to keep those commands. Why plead for something we have no control over fulfilling? This kind of thinking also impinges on God’s most important attribute, His justice (Gen 18:19; Deu 16:20, 32:4).

God’s justice dictates that the majority of our actions and the events that make up the future be free and unknown.

3.1. If God is to be just in His judgment of us at the end of time, then it requires that the majority of our wills and the future be free and unknown since, “How can God commend/condemn us if the majority of what we did/did not do was out of our control because the future was pre-determined or fixed?”

3.2. The only time things could/would ever be fixed (rather than free) is if they have a direct bearing on God’s promises or prophecies. Scripture records certain occasions where God’s direct intervention in the actions or decisions of free-will creatures such as ourselves seems to have been necessary to the accomplishment of His purposes (e.g. Joh 11:47-53 = Seeing the rejection of the Jews, God now moves Caiaphas to prophesy what will cause the Sanhedrin to seek His death).

3.3. What about God’s omniscience? How can God be said to be omniscient (all knowing and all wise) if the majority of the future is free and unknown? God’s omniscience does not require God to know all of the future – only those aspects related to His future promises and prophecies.

God’s knowledge of the future is only in respect to His promises and prophecies and therefore a reflection of His omnipotence not His omniscience.

4.1. Isaiah 40-48, that portion of Scripture dealing w/God’s knowledge of the future as proof that He is true God is not about His omniscience, but rather His omnipotence – i.e. that He has the power to declare what will be in the future and see that it comes to pass exactly as He declared (e.g. Isa 46:8-11).

4.2. The above understanding of knowing the future (i.e. you know only what you have determined will happen – which means you are stating what power/control you have to guarantee what has yet to exist) is the only way to speak about the future that is correct since the term (“the future”) does not refer to something already realized or currently being realized as do the constructs we refer to as past and present. IOW: it is not about what is real (or realized) but what may (or will be). Which once more points not to omniscience, but again omnipotence: what God by His power will bring into existence/make real when that time becomes present (e.g. Rom 4:17; Isa 42:8-9, 48:3 “then suddenly [meaning in the present] I did them, and they came to pass” = God’s knowledge of the future is the knowledge of His omnipotence to do those things.).

God’s lack of knowledge regarding the future will never keep Him from perfectly accomplishing His promises and prophecies since He has planned for every possible outcome and knows our hearts (our thoughts, inclinations and intentions), the source of our every action in the present.

5.1. God is (again) omniscient and omnipotent means that He already put all the necessary contingency plans in place based on what possibilities/choices/scenarios could exist (again Exo 13:17).

5.2. And He knows our hearts (our thoughts, inclinations and intentions), the source of our every action in the present. Which means He is always one step/move ahead of us (Gen 6:5; 2Ch 16:9; Mat 12:34b; 1Co 4:5; Deu 31:16 w/21; Gen 25:23 w/Isa 48:8 and Pro 5:21; Isa 65:24).

5.3. Like a great shepherd, God is using whatever elements or influence He needs in the present to move His flock (all of Creation) in the direction He desires in order to guarantee His outcome be achieved in the future. And this once more He does, while rarely ever having to violate our free-wills (e.g. Isa 10:5-15; Gen 50:20; Pro 21:1 w/2Ch 36:22-23w/Ezr 1:1-2w/ Isa 44:24-28).

5.4. How difficult is this for God? Though not even close to the disparity that exists between His wisdom and power and our own, imagine a 200 q-bit quantum computer (scientists claim that if we are able to build one this size, it will possess more information than exists in the universe) playing chess w/a three year old (the age at which the basics of chess can be grasped). Is there a move that baby could make that would catch the computer off guard and mess it up? Could not a computer like that also anticipate (and therefore plan) w/great accuracy, the baby’s every move? And (going back to the fact that God already knows [in the present] what move we will make based on our thoughts/intentions in the present, means it is impossible for that baby to ever win (as if that was a question to begin w/!).

5.5. In summary, God doesn’t need to know the future to control the future – only the present, since as already mentioned, it is the actions of the present which determine the future.

[1] We have unimpeded control over what we do and the choices we make. They are not the result of coercion or causation – including God’s decree or pre-determination.

[2] One must be careful not to view those passages which employ the words “predestined” or “foreknowledge” as always referring to the fulfillment of something planned in the distant past. The same can be said about those references to OT passages in the NT that seem to indicate the fulfillment of former prophecy. In many cases, they did not exist (as prophetic) until they were realized (or used for such purposes) in their present or given context. As such, their main function is more confirmation that a person’s actions are consistent (or congruent) w/God’s established principles, prior workings or history than the realization of ancient predictions (Mat 2:17, 4:14-16, 13:13-15, 27:9; Joh 12:37-38 w/Isa 53:1 w/Mat 23:37; e.g. Psa 41:4 w/9 w/Joh 13:18-19; e.g. Excerpt from my wife’s biography, “So that the Scripture would be fulfilled, my wife submitted to me in all things”. Is this not how Jam 2:21-23 views God’s prophetic words regarding Abraham?).

Our God The Great Shepherd – Part 2

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 (however) 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?

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 late R.C. Sproul, the Gospel Coalition and Ligonier Ministries, denominations such as the PCA, OPC, CREC, and ARBCA or seminaries such as The Master’s Seminary, Westminster Seminaries, Reformed Theological Seminaries and The Southern Baptist Seminary.

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

1.2.1. B/C it makes God the author of sin and evil (Jer 7:30-34).

1.2.2. B/C it would mean that we are not responsible for our actions (Rom 1:19-20 – “without excuse”).

1.2.3. B/C if that were true, then justice would not be just (1Pe 1:17; 2Co 5:9-10).

1.2.4. B/C in Scripture, God reacts and plans according to the actions and potential actions of people (Gen 6:7, 22:12; Exo 13:17, 32:7-14; Jon 3:1-10; Jer 18:7-10; *Theistic determinism is incompatible w/God reacting. Thus, to prove God does react is to equally prove determinism is wrong).

1.2.5. B/C the early church also viewed theistic determinism as heresy (e.g. Augustine[3]; Deu 8:2[4]).

1.2.6. B/C theistic determinism is not much different than the view held by many popular atheists (e.g. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins).

1.2.7. B/C God’s plans, promises or prophecies do not require determinism to be successful/fulfilled (Consider the ability/expectations of finite humans -e.g. 1Ti 3:3-4).

1.2.8. B/C it denies the important doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture.

What the doctrine of Perspicuity teaches: Those teachings or truths of greatest importance in Scripture are made plain or clear and are meant to be discerned through literal interpretation and simple deduction (e.g. God reacting to the actions of people – Gen 11:1-9; Eze 6:9, 12:3; Jam 4:2).

Open Theism

All things – including the decisions, actions and paths of humans and angels, are free to the degree that the future is not only unknown but open to the possibility of God being wrong about what He planned, promised or prophesied would take place.[5] The reasoning behind such thinking is that this (the future is so unknown that God can be wrong about it) is the only way to preserve the freedom of humans and angels while at the same time protecting God’s innocence in relation to sin and evil in the world.

2.1. Who is crazy enough to believe this heresy?

Evangelicals such as Richard Rice, the late Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, David Basinger, William Hasker, Greg Boyd, local “Christian” radio hosts and pastors Bob Enyart and Gino Geraci, theological groups such as the Evangelical Theological Society, or denominations such as the Baptist General Conference, Calvary Chapel churches, or Christian colleges such as Bethel University, Messiah University, McMasters Divinity College.

2.2. Why you should view it as crazy and heretical:

2.2.1. B/C it would mean that God is – at best, incompetent, at worst, a liar.

If God can be wrong, then the only question left to answer is, was His error a mistake or a lie? Did He intend to mislead -or was He Himself misled? The god of the open theist is either a well-meaning but incompetent fool or a bold-face, manipulative liar. Neither option/scenario gives us good reason to trust Him. Such conclusions (thankfully) do not square w/God’s self-disclosure in Scripture (Deu 32:4; Num 23:19; Job 37:16; Pro 18:30 – “This God, His way is perfect” = God is perfect/infallible in all He does).

2.2.2. B/C it would mean a lot of legitimate prophets dying as false prophets.

If God can be wrong, then the same would be true of those who speak for Him, His prophets. According to Scripture, this would result in a lot of legitimate prophets (men who truly heard from God) dying as false prophets (Deu 18:20-22[6]).

2.2.3. B/C it denies the important doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture.

What the doctrine of Inerrancy teaches: that the original manuscripts of Scripture possess no error (intentional or intentional) but are instead perfect and infallible in what they intend to communicate since they are the product (not of fallible men) but of a perfect and infallible God.

The logical conclusion to a fallible God who makes false prophetic statements, is that the doctrine of inerrancy is false. The Bible (the book filled w/God’s former prophecies) is a book filled w/error.[7] As before, the biblical witness says otherwise (Pro 18:30, 30:5; 2Sa 7:28; Mat 22:29; Joh 10:35 [“broken” = wrong]; Joh 17:17; Consider also 2Ti 3:16 = How can the Scriptures be said to be profitable if not all of them are true? How do we determine what is not?; Mat 7:24-27 = Wouldn’t it be dangerous to build my life on something that is not entirely true?).

2.2.4. B/C the early church was unanimous in their view of Scripture as inerrant.

“It would be pointless to call into question that Biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times, and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers and the rabbis generally, the ascription of any error to the Bible was unthinkable . . . . If the word was God’s it must be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural science, whether it derived from human observation or chronicled an event of history.” – Bruce Vawter (Biblical Inspiration, 1972)

“There can be no mistaking that [the early church] held to divine, inerrant inspiration.” – Geoffrey W. Bromily (Historical Theology: An Introduction, 1978)[8]

2.2.5. B/C God’s ability to perfectly accomplish His plans, promises and prophecies is what He claims distinguishes Him from the false gods of the world. (Isa 41:21-29, 22-23, 26, 29, 42:8-9, 44:6-8, 9-20, 45:5-17, 18-25, 21, 46:1-7, 8-13, 48:3-8, 3, 5-6; Joh 13:19).

2.2.6. B/C humans, angels and the future can be truly free and unknown w/o the possibility of God being wrong or guilty of sin and evil.

[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] “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.”

[4] “Church history helps to illuminate and clarify what we believe, providing a context for evaluating our beliefs and practices [as] a safeguard against error.” – Sinclair Ferguson (Church History 101: The Highlights Of Twenty Centuries)

[5] 1) “God forecasts what he thinks will happen. In this regard God is the consummate social scientist predicting what will happen. God’s ability to predict the future in this way is far more accurate than any human forecasters, however, since God has exhaustive access to all past and present knowledge. This would explain God’s foretelling Moses that Pharoah would refuse to grant his request. Nonetheless, this does leave open the possibility that God might be ‘mistaken’ about some points…” – John Sanders; 2) “…it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may [in the end] not produce the anticipated results…” – David Basinger

[6] “We may not want to admit it but prophecies often go unfulfilled… God, who is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy, is not bound to a script, even his own. The world is a project and God works on it creatively; he is free to strike out in new directions. We cannot pin the free God down.” – Clark Pinnock

[7] “Does the New Testament, did Jesus, teach the perfect errorlessness of the Scriptures? No, not in plain terms… What the Scriptures do is to present a sound and reliable testimony [not an inerrant one] to who he is and what God has done for us.” – Clark Pinnock

[8] 1)“Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them” – Clement of Rome (Bishop of Rome, 35-99 A.D.), 2) “Since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion of myself” – Justin Martyr (Christian Apologist, 100-165 A.D.), 3) “We must believe God who has given us the right understanding, for the Holy Scriptures are perfect, because they are uttered by the Word of God and the Spirit of God… We should leave things [of an unknowable] nature to God who creates us, being most assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit” – Irenaeus of Lyons (Bishop of Lyons and friend of Polycarp, direct disciple of the Apostle John; 130-202 A.D.), 4) [The Scriptures are] an infallible criterion of faith.” – Clement of Alexandria (Christian Theologian and teacher of the famous Origen, 150-215 A.D.), 5) “The statements of Holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth” – Tertullian (Christian Apologist, 160-240 A.D.), 6) “Now it is the opinion of some, that the Scriptures do not agree together, or that God, Who gave the commandment, is false. But there is no disagreement whatever, far from it, neither can the Father, Who is truth, lie.” – Athanasius (Bishop of Alexandria, 293-373 A.D.), 7) “The Scripture does not lie.” – Gregory of Nyssa (Bishop of Nyssa, 330-393 A.D.), 8) “For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books; that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive. I have learned to yield this [total] respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error” – Augustine (Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.).

Our God The Great Shepherd – Part 1

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)