An Explanation of Simple Foreknowledge

In the book Against Calvinism, Roger Olson asserts that Calvinism damages God’s reputation, and that  it (unintentionally) turns God into a moral monster who is hardly distinguishable from the devil.  Olson doesn’t argue that Calvinists affirm that God is like the devil. Rather, in his view  it is the logical implication of Calvinism.  It’s a strong assertion, but I agree.   John Wesley did also.

Michael Horton, a pretty amiable Calvinist, and author of the book For Calvinism, recently did a post on why he believes that Arminians runs into the same “character of God” issues as Calvinists do.  He proposes that “Non-Calvinist theologies are just as vulnerable on this question.”  He offers two questions:

If [in Arminianism] God knew that Adam and Eve were going to transgress his law, why didn’t he change the circumstances so that they would have made a different choice?

Why [in Arminianism] would God create people he knew would be condemned for their original and actual sin?

Horton’s questions  implicitly acknowledge that the Calvinist system does create problems for God’s character, however, he believes these issues are also present in Arminian theology.   If Horton’s arguments hit the mark, they would seem to limit Arminians to only two options:  1) Acknowledge that the Arminian understanding of God’s foreknowledge turns God into a moral  monster in the same way that Calvinism does, or 2) Reject the possibility that God has exhaustive  foreknowledge (Open Theism).

But there is a third option: simple foreknowledge (which I’ll call SF).  SF avoids the “character of God” issues present in Calvinism, while at the same time holding that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all events since before the foundation of the world.

What if God knew what humanity would do only after he made a decision to create us?  This could be understood as a logical order, not by necessity a temporal one, since God is everlasting.  What if after God decided to create us, he was unwilling or unable to take back that decision?  This understanding of foreknowledge would not compromise God’s character, because his foreknowledge came about as a result of his decision to create. Not all Arminans hold to SF, some hold to different explanations (like Molinism).  However, SF provides reasonable answers for Horton’s questions about the character of God.

SF adherents maintain that God’s foreknowledge is contingent on our existence.  God knows what we will do because we will do it.  God’s knowing isn’t the source of our doing.  Rather, our doing is the source of God’s knowing.  SF adherents believe that it is meaningless to speak of God knowing the actions of creatures that never exist.  It’s also meaningless to speak of God knowing what we would do in different situations that don’t actually exist.  If an actual situation doesn’t exist, there is nothing for God to know about it.

It’s a bit like stating that God knows what will happen tomorrow when the hobbit steals the leprechaun’s pot of gold.  God doesn’t know any “fact” like that.  There is no hobbit.  There is no leprechaun.  There is nothing for God to know about that situation, only an imaginary concept that doesn’t exist.

SF adherents hold that at some point God made a decision to create the world.  Again, this can be understood as a logical order, not a temporal one.  Prior to God’s decision to make the world, there was nothing for him to know about what humanity would or wouldn’t do.  He hadn’t decided to create us.  We were non-existent.  After deciding to create the world, then God knew everything that would happen – sin, some people believing in him, others rejecting him. But at that point our world was actualized, God knew what we would do because we would eventually do it.  At that moment God also knew what he would do about sin and how he would redeem humanity – by sending Jesus: God himself in the flesh.  After deciding to create humanity in his image, and granting us the ability to make decisions, and granting us a privileged position, God couldn’t take back his choice to create.  He couldn’t make us cease to exist, without doing violence to his character and  to his creation.

Now, SF has some mystery to it.  How did God know what we would do before we actually existed in time?  How could God decide in an instant how he would interact with humanity throughout all time?  How can God be emotional about his creation today if he has foreknown all events all along?  These are valid questions, but I’m comfortable leaving them in  the realm of mystery.  Mystery is preferable to believing that God causes sin, or that he doesn’t know the future.

The logical order of God’s foreknowledge in Calvinism and Arminianism works something like this:

Calvinism
1) God meticulously decrees what will happen in the world that he intends to create.
2) God creates.

Arminianism
1) God decides to create.
2) God has exhaustive foreknowledge about everything that is going to happen.

While Calvinists and Arminians both believe that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, only in Calvinism does God meticulously decree the future – and (in the Arminian view) that’s what makes him responsible for evil.  In Arminianism, God’s foreknowledge is contingent on the future free actions of creatures created in his image.  If we did something different, God would know something different, because the source of his foreknowledge is our eventual actions.  The Arminian does not affirm that God knew he would damn people before he decided created them, nor is it necessary for us to do so.  If the source of God’s foreknowledge is our actions, God is not culpable for evil.  If the source of God’s foreknowledge is through his meticulous decree, then God is responsible for every sin that every person commits.  And he is ultimately responsible for evil.  Perish the thought!

[For a scholarly explanation of the SF view, read God and Time by theologian Jack Cottrell.  Cottrell calls this concept the “noetic big bang”.]

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49 Comments

Filed under Arminianism, Attributes of God, Calvinism, foreknowlege

49 responses to “An Explanation of Simple Foreknowledge

  1. slw

    It’s also meaningless to speak of God knowing what we would do in different situations that don’t actually exist. If an actual situation doesn’t exist, there is nothing for God to know about it.

    How do counterfactuals, such as Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11, fit into this viewpoint?

  2. Hi SLW Good question. I think Matt 11 (regarding Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon, etc) is one of the stronger texts defending the idea couterfacutals, however, I’m not convinced that is the only viable interpretation of the passage. In every Bible text that I’m aware of (that’s relevant to the idea of middle knowledge), God is addressing real people that actually exist or existed. Since Jesus was describing actual people and cities, it could simply be that he knew their situations so thoroughly and intimately that he was able to accurately prognosticate what they would do in a different situation. That Jesus could do this doesn’t prove that that these alternate worlds were truly possible.

    I do prefer middle knowledge over full blown Calvinism. It solves some problems and creates some others. But it does seem to be more susceptible to some of the character of God questions that Horton proposes.

    • slw

      If counterfactuals exist in the Bible, it does point to a problem with SF, wouldn’t you say? If so, SF is not a sufficient concept to entail all that God knows about our futures. If God can accurately, analytically prognosticate then his knowledge of our future is not truly beholden to actuality.

      • The ability to accurately prognosticate what real people will do in fixed situations is something that even humans can do when given enough data. This is particularly true of group behavior. It’s not surprising that God has this ability. I see it as falling under the umbrella of SF.

        There’s little scriptural evidence to take it beyond that. It’s one matter to propose that God knows what a one time decision would be for a group of real people who actually existed. It’s a different matter to propose that God exhaustively knows what those people (and their descendants who never existed) would have done down the road in that alternate reality.

        In my view, the problem with taking middle knowledge too far is that it becomes vulnerable to the same character of God issues that Horton proposes. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise! How would you answer Horton’s questions from a Molinist view?

      • slw

        KJ,
        I am not a Molinist, and so would be the wrong person to offer its defense. The system seems to me to be a philosophy in search of a scripture, as much as is Limited Atonement. I agree with your assessment that it is easy to outstrip the scripture and say more than we can about how God knows what he knows. I think the issue of temporality also confounds the subject.

        I do not doubt God’s ability to prognosticate. I think that there is something to Deut 8:2 or Exodus 16:4, which seems to indicate that there is a difference between God’s ability to prognosticate and the status of his actual knowledge. SF+prognostic understanding seems a reasonable formula.

        The question would be easy to resolve if we could tell in what way counterfactuals were used by God in the scriptures. Do they spring from a Deut 31:21 understanding, or do the come from absolute, prescient knowledge? Are they merely rhetorical, as-if statements used to make a point, or are they the prophetic renderings of an omniscient mind. If they represent actual alternate truth, there is a problem with SF, because they would mean that God incontrovertibly knows apart from foresight.

      • Good thoughts, I think there can be a tendency with any view of foreknowledge (including SF) to get too committed to something that is largely beyond our understanding. So while SF makes sense to me, I’m not hostile to any view that avoids the character of God issues of Calvinism. :)

  3. ted

    hey kevin… thanks for the post. I’ve been trying to explain this idea to sarah for years but I never had the theological explanation… she’s going to read it later.

  4. Tom Maloley

    Kevin,

    If after His decision to create God could predestine the salvation of those he foreknew would have faith, couldn’t he have predestined those He foreknew would not have faith to not live to an age of accountability so no one would go to hell?

    Thanks

    • Hi Tom, Thanks for stopping by and for the question.

      The view you describe might work with more of a Molinist view of foreknowledge (like SLW described), but it doesn’t make sense with simple foreknowledge. With SF, there is no such thing as exhaustive middle knowledge. God knows events that will actually occur. If God prevented someone from growing up, there would be nothing for Him to absolutely know about whether that particular person would have had faith or not.

  5. Good post brother. You reason well.

  6. For me this has meant a twenty-year engagement with the attack on God’s foreknowledge of his creature’s moral choices. The engagement has been sporadic until recently. And in the last two years has been intense. In 1977, a book was published called Did God Know? The book affirmed that “God’s knowledge is perfect and boundless.” But it argued that omniscience cannot include what is by nature unknowable, namely, future choices made by free creatures. “[God] cannot know something which is nothing,” said the author, and future choices are not yet in existence to know. They are nothing. So it is no limiting of God’s foreknowledge to say he cannot know nothing, namely, the future his creatures create.

    • slw

      OBA,
      The approach you mention makes God subject to time, which I think is a error against his self-existence. The only way God cannot know the future is if he is limited by the now. Our future choices are not nothing, they are merely unknowable and unaccessible for those of us in time.

  7. Chris

    SFK seems problematic to me because you are suggesting a type of open theism that is logical rather than temporal. So God created a world were he knew the potential to really screw things up was there, but he didn’t know the extent of the screw up until after He made it? So he rolled the dice! Is this right? Seems dangerously negligent to me. I don’t like the way calvinist characterize God, but I can’t say much better about this description. When I heard Olsen make this argument I was as stunned as Horton! Guess I need to do more research on the history of the system I claim to believe!

    However, let me thank you because I’ve been looking for an explanation since I first heard Olsen’s comment on Horton’s site.

  8. Chris

    Sorry for misspelling Dr. Olson’s name!!

  9. Hi Chris, I wouldn’t characterize SF quite like you did, but that’s essentially correct. Logically speaking God has exhaustive foreknowledge before humanity is actualized, but after his decision to create.

    I really see only two options here. God knows without decreeing (SF), or God knows because he causes/decrees (Determinism/Calvinism). I prefer SF, acknowledging that the position is not a fix-all. I’m okay with mystery too. Perhaps there is some other way that God knows everything without causing it. Any view is preferable to holding that God decreed a sinful world by plan. Some Arminians also hold to Molinism/Middle Knowledge. But I think MK does fail the two questions that Horton proposed, (while SF does not).

    If you haven’t read it already, you might enjoy Jack Cottrell’s scholarly explanation of the SF view, linked to at the bottom of the post.

  10. Scot

    Peace!

    This approach to justify man’s will as greater than it actually is, begs the question.
    If GOD knows what I am going to do in the future, then I really can’t do anything else, but that, so since he already knows what I am going to do and God can’t be wrong, then it’s silly to think we have options about things we do not have, such as accepting Christ as Lord and Saviour.
    The decision on what we will someday do, was already made before we got to the point of decision in the future. Otherwise, GOD wouldn’t know what we will do.
    However, he knows what we are going to do, before we do it, and we cannot do other than what he already knows, so that pretty much pushes maximum free will right out the window.

    • Thanks for stopping by Scot. The heart of Arminianism is our focus on the character of God. God is perfectly good, he does not cause evil. We don’t care about free will except to the extent that it explains why God did not create an evil and fallen world. Put differently, in our view, Calvinism makes God the author of sin. From the Calvinist view, people do exactly what God decreed them to do, and this includes causing people to sin. In the Calvinist view Adam sinned by God’s decree. In the Arminian view Adam sinned because he rejected God. If God is truly good and holy, the only way to explain the problem of evil is to acknowledge that by design God allows people to do things that he genuinely does not prefer. Regarding foreknowledge, Arminians believe that God exhaustively knows the future. When Jesus died for the world he knew he would save everyone who believes in him. Jesus willingly went to the cross for everyone, even for those who ultimately reject him. Because he loves them.

  11. Somewhat Free

    Then there’s the math problem of the Arminian viewpoint. Mathematically,within the Arminian view it is POSSIBLE that every human being on the planet could choose salvation. That doesn’t bother me at all, but it’s contrary does. IF that is possible, then it’s also POSSIBLE that nobody chooses salvation or Christ as saviour. Were that true and happen, then the death of our Lord on the cross redeemed no one, and his death, meaning and ministry in vain.

    I doubt that God chose such a plan for the planet, and there is certainly nothing in Scripture that suggests this.
    Hope this Helps!
    Peace!

  12. Calvinist Named Ryan

    I would just say it is incorrect to say that Calvinists make God the author of sin. We simply make a distinction between primary and secondary causes. You said, “From the Calvinist view, people do exactly what God decreed them to do.” Isn’t this just the most honest way to deal with passages like Gen 50:20, Isaiah 10, and Acts 4:27-28, which plainly teach that when people sin they both did God’s will and where still perfectly culpable? These instances in Scripture are not isolated cases, but rather representative of how God continually works in creation.

    SF view appears to do more damage than help. May be this is because it is based on view that God needs defending by creatures which are no more than the equivalent of clay pots. First it makes God dependent upon the creature to be who He is. Instead of being a se (of Himself), God becomes perfectly wise through creation. Which appears to be a mix of arminianism and process theology. The Bible teaches that God does not change. Yet SF has God changing (His knowledge changes) through His determination to create. This alone is proof enough to reject such error.

    Like another poster said, this view also makes God one who would “roll the cosmic dice” and hope that things turn out for the best. It makes one wonder if God would cross His fingers before creation, or perhaps pray to Lady Luck? We think that we need to defend God’s love, but in the process SF turns God into a irresponsible creator, who cannot even control the work of His own hands. This world is the best He could do? Think about it. I would rather hold the belief that God rules this fallen planet and has a good and holy purpose in every evil deed, which will be evidenced in due time. I trust Him, I don’t need to justify Him, either to myself or to anyone else.

    My personal conclusion is that SF is a poor attempt to deal with the fact that God has more attributes than just love. Just as you implied in a comment about Jesus dying even for those people He knew would reject Him and go to hell. Why would Christ die for people He knew infallibly would reject Him and go to hell? You said it is because God loved everyone. And in this you even take away God’s common sense, all for the sake of “love.” Just as you take away God’s perfection and glory through SF, but at least God looks better in our eyes.

    • Hi Ryan, Thanks for the additional thoughts.

      Let me explain the problem Arminians see with the Calvinist concept of secondary causes. If exhaustive determinism is true, secondary causes are irrelevant to the matter of God’s goodness. If people are doing what they must do (by God’s causation), and they can’t do otherwise, then God is responsible for their evil. He caused it and that makes him evil (perish the thought)! It’s like watching a puppet show where the puppet pulls out a gun and shoots someone in the audience. The puppet master would rightfully be found at fault for the murder. Hopefully, even if you disagree, you can appreciate why Arminians don’t attribute evil to God. In the Arminian view, to do so would make God worse than the devil. Of course, we realize Calvinists don’t actually believe that God is worse than the devil. We just think Calvinists are inconsistent on the matter (and thankfully so).

      I do believe that God can bring good from any situation, even from terribly evil ones. However, there is a difference in believing that God can bring good out of evil to glorify himself, and believing that God must cause evil in order to glorify himself. The first is loving and powerful. The second is selfish and less powerful.

      You are right, Arminians do put the primary focus on God’s love. And we should. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8). Wrath is not intrinsic to God’s character like His love is. Wrath is God’s response to rejection of His provision in Christ. By overemphasizing wrath and considering it to be intrinsic to God’s character, Calvinism inadvertently minimizes Christ’s death on the cross. Calvinists believe that even though Jesus bled and died, God’s wrath still wasn’t satisfied. That takes the focus off of Jesus and makes light of what He accomplished. In light of the cross, God’s wrath only exists because there are people who still reject Christ’s provision. If everyone believed (and everyone can) it wouldn’t be intrinsically necessary for God to be wrathful

      Arminians believe that God’s love is unconditional. If God only loves those who love him back, what good is that kind of love? It’s like the love of the tax collectors described in Matt 5:46. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:7). Such is God’s love for everyone. Jesus died even for those who ultimately chose to reject Him. You’re right, it’s not common sense! But I’m thankful that’s the way that God loves. And He tells us to be like Him.

      Arminians believe that Calvinism inadvertently minimizes the power of God and makes Him seem weaker than He truly is. A free world is a greater and better than a world of puppets. Does God have the power to create people in His image, and to give them genuine choice and moral freedom? That’s what scripture indicates. God gives freedom because He is relational. He wants people to respond to Him and to love him freely. That’s how He rolls. And he’s big enough to handle creation even when His creatures do things that He does not prefer. God finds such a world to be of value, and who are we to talk back to Him?

  13. Scot

    Predestination applies to salvation, not whether or not I am going to eat eggs this morning or pancakes.
    The analogy, and I am certain you are familiar with it, is we are free as a horse in fenced acreage is free. The Horse can go north or south, but he cannot leave the acreage. Within that fence, that scope of Free-Will, we can be as evil as we dare.

    God chose Abraham, rejected Esau, and tells us in the New Testament that “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit .”
    So the issue is how to reconcile the existence of Evil with the quoted truth above. It’s not accomplished by rejecting that verse, which seems to be the Arminian preference.

    • Hi Scot, Thanks again for stopping by.

      I like the horse in the fenced acreage analogy. It is consistent with Arminian theology. AW Tozer used a similar analogy of a ship going across the ocean. The people on the ship do what they want, and all along the ocean liner goes where the captain intends for it to go. Arminians affirm that God has given us limited but genuine freedom, and that at the same time God’s purposes will certainly be accomplished.

      Calvinism, however, has no room for such freedom. The WCF states that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass”. In Calvinism God ordains whatever comes to pass, including what I eat for breakfast. In Calvinism God must control everything down to the movement of each molecule in order to bring about His purposes. “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). That’s why (in the Arminian view) the Calvinist concept of divine sovereignty is so week.

      Arminians affirm election to purpose. God does not choose certain individuals to be saved or damned, but He does select certain individuals to accomplish His purposes. Jacob was chosen to be the father of the nation from whom Christ would come. But this doesn’t mean Esau was damned. Esau was reconciled with Jacob and forgave him. As far as we know, Esau will be in heaven.

      Likewise, John 15:16 does not affirm particular election. It is another verse that affirms God calling specific individuals for a purpose. The apostles were chosen as the verse states, “to bear fruit”. Not all of them were saved. See John 6:70 – all twelve were chosen, but Judas was not saved.

      It comes down to the question of whether of not God is truly good. Arminians believe He is. If God ordains everything and Calvinism is true, there would be no evil. But there is evil. So either God isn’t good, or He doesn’t cause everything. Arminians hold to the latter. Moral freedom explains how God can be good and how there can also be evil. At the root, evil is people rejecting God’s plan for them. In the interest of relationship, God permits things that he does not prefer – in order to have a people who truly choose to follow Him.

      • Scot

        Thanks Kevin!
        I’m glad you like the fenced-horse analogy, but I think your view of it is not Arminian, in that Arminians believe the horse can leave the fenced area if it wants to, but Scripture says that we cannot do what God has not willed. Arminianism, though rightly motivated says at heart that man’s will is greater than God’s will, that if God wanted me to go to Heaven, and I didn’t want to go, then my will trumps God’s. Of course that’s just not true. Conversely, if I want to go to heaven and God, as he did with Judas, said “you aren’t getting in”, then I am not getting in, unless of course I was an Arminian who can outwill the Lord’s ability.

        I wish all churches would adopt the Westminster Confession, it’s difficult these days to find one as churches are more concerned about cash and big buildings with gymnasiums, and coffee shops and everyone on the planet is more amenable to thinking they are like gods with the freedom to choose where their soul ends up instead of worshipping the God whose majestic glory is made awesome by his complete sovereignty and loving his elect.

      • Hi Scot, Many Calvinists are surprised to find that Arminianism is actually quite close to Calvinism in some respects. Wesley described his view as only a hairs breadth from Calvinism. We believe that God both creates moral freedom, and sets limits upon it. Some folks may hold to unlimited freedom, but their view is better described as Pelagian or Process theology, not Arminianism.

        Going again with your analogy, another way of putting it is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe in a fenced area. Arminians believe the fenced area is larger. Yet nonetheless there are God imposed limits and unavoidable consequences when one attempts to “jump the fence”.

        Arminians believe that God is sovereign. We agree with our Calvinist brothers that God has unlimited power, and that He does as He pleases. Where we differ from Calvinists is God’s purpose and intent in creation – the size of the fenced area. We believe that God has (by His decree) given us the ability to make moral decisions. This includes the grace enabled decision to follow Him or to reject Him. If someone rejects God, he does not thwart God’s will. Rather he fulfills it. God’s will is not to make our choices for us, but instead that we should to be free to make those choices. The person who rejects God has never left the fenced area.

        I’m obviously not a Calvinist, but I do appreciate your attempt to best honor our great and sovereign God. Thanks for the conversation. :)

  14. Rob

    I’ve heard the distinction before in these kinds of conversations, but I still find it a little difficult to appreciate the various references to something being “logically but not temporally” before something else. What does it really mean to say that God decided something “logically but not temporally” before something else? I find that language deeply ambiguous, esoteric, and ultimately unhelpful in terms of any analogy with cognition, planning, reasoning, etc.

    It’s also not clear why God has to decide to create a world before we can envision the unfolding of his future? Since God is not determining the future but can simply see what will happen, why does he have to “actualize” (not create but decide to create) a world before he can see what happens? What is it about “actualizing” that somehow lowers the veil on some created world and compels God to in fact create what he has “actualized”?

    Ultimately, this language about logical precedence and the notion that once God commits to creating a particular world, he is bound to create that world, it has an air of hand-waving about it. Another paradoxical (to me) aspect of simple foreknowledge (as you have explained it) is that it would seem that God doesn’t know about the specific course of his own give-and-take exchanges with his creatures (and their outcomes) until he has committed to creating the world in which the precise course of those interactions is fixed (but prior to those events actually unfolding). So, for example, the moment God decided to actualize this world he learned that he and I would have whatever interactions we would have, including how He would behave in those interactions.

    I write as an Arminian who is deeply skeptical of simple foreknowledge, open theism, and Molinism, so finding myself retreating into mystery.

    Thanks for the post and for offering a path for those who have only gotten as far as concluding that Calvinism is a non-starter (me included!).

    • Thanks for stopping by Rob. You make several good points, and I don’t substantially disagree with you. Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest.” That applies well to SF. SF is the worst view of foreknowledge except for all the rest. Or put differently, I think every other view of foreknowledge (or lack of foreknowledge) has bigger issues to deal with.

      I’m uncomfortable with the “actualizing” view that you describe (which sounds like Molinism). It’s vulnerable to Horton’s “character of God” assertions. God could have actualized a world where Adam and Eve didn’t fall by placing them in different circumstances. If God had this ability and didn’t use it, it’s difficult to explain why He’s not responsible for evil. On the flip side, if God had this ability and did use it, it’s difficult to understand why evil exists at all. And if God uses this ability all the time, we end up with a type of Calvinistic exhaustive determinism again.

      Dealing with the logical order being different than the temporal order, I’m with you that it’s confusing. I don’t know if you read the Cottrell article referenced (at the end of the post), but he flat out argues that temporally God did not know what would happen in the world until he created it. So that’s one route to take. But I’m not real comfortable with that, as it means that God hasn’t always known everything. I prefer to hold in tension that God made a decision to create and that he has somehow always known everything.

      I can appreciate too your desire to retreat to mystery. I find myself there sometimes also. But then I dislike tension and like to have answers too. So the whole things it’s a bit of pendulum for me. :)

  15. Rob

    oops. “It’s also not clear why God has to decide to create a world before He can envision the unfolding of its future?”

  16. Alexander

    It is perhaps a mistake to think that God had an exhaustive foreknowledge since before the creation of the world (although it is possible that this was the case before the foundation of the present post-Flood world). Genesis makes it clear that God learned of people’s evil inclinations by observation-not by having imagined such evil imaginations Himself before He created any one.

    • Thanks for the comment Alexander. I think it’s reasonable to interpret those passages (Genesis 22:12 for example) as God anthropomorphizing himself for the benefit of teaching the person he is speaking to. I think God knew beforehand that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Issac, but Abraham didn’t know this until after the event.

      A different example we might agree on- God asks Adam and Eve where they are (Genesis 3:9). It would be a mistake to claim that proves God didn’t know where they were. Rather, he was working on their level.

      • Alexander

        Thanks for your response, Kevin. I was thinking more of such passages as Gen.6.5 -7 and 18.21. My problem is with the widely accepted notion that, before He had created anything, the Lord had already seen exactly what all His creatures would do in the misuse of their free will, even that Adam himself MUST fall. I believe the solution is in God’s observing, and of course seeing into the minds of, individuals. It seems to me that His determination of many events after the Flood, and at the foundation of the present world, were based on the knowledge He had gained by such observation, as well as ongoing observation of individuals as they made their appearance. This, to me, avoids attributing to God an imagination of the kinds of depraved and evil conduct His creatures would run to after the Fall. Does this make sense? I am not a theologian, but these matters concern me greatly, and I am glad to have discovered your website.

      • Thanks Alexander, I understand your concerns and absolutely agree with you! It’s a mistake to attribute bad things to God that he’s not responsible for. We don’t want to misrepresent his good character. In the end, simple foreknowledge is an attempt to do that – to explain how God can foreknow things without attributing their root cause to him.

        We may differ on the foreknowledge issue, but we’re hitting the same “problem” in different ways – showing how God is good.

    • Scot

      If God knows what choices people are going to make, then it’s no longer a choice is it? Perhaps the person doesnt know his choice was made in advance (which it had to be otherwise God would not know about it), but God certainly knew. Since the future was settled B4 the person was born, AND his future decisions known in advance of his birth, then the person could not have made the choice before birth, leaving God to be God and us to be His servants according to His plan.

  17. Alexander

    Thank you, brother Kevin. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I’ll sign off, as it’s bedtime in my part of the world! I’ll drop in again.
    Regards.

  18. Alexander

    I am interested to know why you consider it necessary to affirm that God had exhaustive foreknowledge before He created any free creature. Is it not possible to understand the Scriptures as teaching God’s decision to limit His foreknowledge to an extent in allowing the first humans to make free choices? Are you driven by Scriptures to affirm this-in which case which passages?-or is it simply conformity to an Arminian tradition? Is it not possible that Adam might himself have chosen to remain faithful to God? I am inclined to see God’s precise determination of events as following on from His observation of Adam’s Fall, and of the subsequent compounding of it by the generations which followed, going further into depravity than God would ever have envisaged?

    • Hi Alexander, I do think the foreknowledge view has good scriptural support, makes sense, and has the fewest conundrums (one’s that I’m able to live with). Having said that, I’m not particularly dogmatic about it. The view is only a tool to help explain how God can be good, transcendent and imminent (above us and with us).

      I’m a little suspicious, but not hostile to differing views (like open theism). I appreciate the purpose of open theism – to address the problem of evil and to explain how God is truly good.

      Here are some of the reasons I hold to the foreknowledge view:

      Certain passages in scripture indicate that God knows the future. Some examples: Psalm 139 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be..”, Hebrews 4:13 “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight..”, Isaiah 46:10 “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son.”, Eph 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to son-ship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”.

      I think too that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge makes the best explanation for the many specific prophesies in the Bible. God knew the actions, choices, decisions, and responses of people before they actually made them. God knew the Israelites would be in slavery for 400 years (Genesis 15), He knew how long they would be in Babylon (Jeremiah 25), Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. He knew that Peter would disown him three times before the rooster crowed, he knew that all the disciples would abandon him (Matt 26).

      I also think the wisdom of Christians throughout history is important to consider on this topic. Almost all Christians have always held to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, and those who have rejected the view have usually been of questionable orthodoxy (like the Socinians). I’m suspicious of theological views that are more recent innovations.

      If you’re interested in an explanation of why I’m not an open theist, see here. Hope that helps, and God bless!

  19. Alexander

    Thanks, Kevin. I have only just become aware of “Open Theism”, and I see that it is close to conclusions I have arrived at when I found myself unable to fit my understanding of Scripture entirely into either the Arminian or Calvinist/Augustinian camps. Psalm 139 has some varied translations, but it can be read as simply God’s knowledge of the potentialities of the newly conceived embryo, including the potential lifespan (though that is variable, dependent on God’s responses to individuals’ actions and prayers-witness the extension of life granted to Hezekiah). Certainly nothing is hidden from God’s sight and, of course God is able to make known beforehand many things He purposes to bring about in the distant future. He was also able to predestine any who would respond to His love to be conformed to the image of His Son. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that He looked down the centuries and saw that Jimmy Bloggs would become a believer). All this does not compel one to believe that God, before creating anyone, foresaw everything that they would do in the misuse of their freedom. I agree with you that we should have due regard to the wisdom of Christians through the ages. It’s perhaps too much to assert that almost all Christians have held the notion that God knew everything that would happen before He created anyone, but I am sure you have a greater knowledge of theological history than I can aspire to. It seems that some, like Tertullian, affirm that God foreknew even the Transgression of Man, and have started with an assumption that God, being God, must have as one of His attributes, a complete foreknowledge of everything that would happen even before He began to create. My questioning of this is because I do not find it in Holy Scripture. We read in the Fathers such as Athanasius that God had willed that Man should remain in incorruption, I know your reasoning is that God only foreknew before He made him that man would fall, but where is that to be found in Scripture? It is one thing to acknowledge that God can make predictions having observed men’s actions and read their minds, but there seems no support in Scripture for exhaustive foreknowledge before they existed. Just because an assumption has been long held does not make it infallible truth. Neither Scripture nor the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church made any definitive pronouncement on the extent of God’s foreknowledge. I should add that I am a great admirer of Wesley’s witness in his day against the dominant Calvinism. I especially appreciate his “God’s approbation of His works”. Interestingly he writes that man, having fallen in utter defiance of his Maker, brought upon himself and his world a whole army of evils totally unknown till then. I would like to suggest that some of the evils were invented by man’s evil imagination and were also therefore unknown to God until He observed them in man (back to Gen 6.5-6). Otherwise, having God foreknow them might be in danger of attributing an evil imagination to God. However, I acknowledge that we finite, fallen creatures have such feeble minds and should perhaps content ourselves with some mysteries and limited understanding.
    Kind regards.

  20. slw

    Wow Kevin, what a lot of action this post has had since I last looked in on it. I just came back to it after watching the Walls lecture at Evangel and following a link there to here.

    Having read through the thread, it appears to me that quite a bit of difficulty that commenters have had with SF resolves if atemporality is taken into account. If God is “outside of time” it means that all time references are equally before and equally accessible to him, in a very similar way that omnipresence is sometimes formulated. In that case, God’s knowing of the future remains observational rather than causal, even though he retains interventional initiative in any moment in time in order to achieve the end he ultimately and sees and desires. The result is that he sees all without being bound by time. When the prognosticative abilities we discussed at the top of the thread are factored in, the risk mentioned by commenters dissolves into a mere perspective difference.

    • Thanks for stopping in SLW, and good thoughts. Part of the difficulty in discussing foreknowledge is that we are bound by time, so it’s hard for us to even consider how God might not be.

  21. Dave

    Hi Kevin,

    In reading through Cottrell’s paper (which is now available here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Understanding-God-God-and-Time.pdf ), his position is somewhat at odds with the explanation you have given as well as the position most people have taken in comments.

    While Cottrell agrees that God does not have knowledge of His creation until it is actualized (in the noetic “big bang”), Cottrell also believes that God has all knowledge of all possible worlds prior to His decision to create this specific world.

    “In this event of the noetic “big bang,” as God is determining when and how he will intervene in our history, in a sense he is thinking more new thoughts, i.e., making new decisions concerning his own actions. In another sense they are not really new, since from all eternity he has had a complete knowledge of all possible worlds and all possible contingencies, and has eternally known his own potential responses to whatever contingencies will ever arise. So during the “big bang” process God does not have to ponder or weigh possible courses of action. He simply has to convert them
    in his mind from possible future acts to certain future acts.” (pg 12)

    So going back to the “moral monster” question, Cottrell’s position places God in the position of creating a world where He knew (before He decided to create it) that people would be subjected to Hell.

    Dave

  22. Ross

    1. God doesn’t change. Therefore he doesn’t get more knowledge. He has all of it already or none of it. Clearly the later is faulty. Leaving only him having all knowledge. Leaving Hortons critiques standing.

    2. Mere informative knowledge doesn’t take into account why so a choose and some don’t. But this goes against the idea of election and even “we love bc he first loved us.

    3. Ephesians 1:4 and 1 peter 1:20 talk and refer to knowledge and decisions before foundations of the world

    4. I believe Adam and Eve were the only humans to have “free will”. God knew and predestined and allowed their course of action. This does not make God the author of evil.

    • 1) I disagree. Before God created, there was nothing for him to know. Once he decided to create, then he knew everything.

      2) See this post here: http://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/why-does-one-person-believe-in-jesus-and-not-another/

      3) SF is also before the foundation of the world, but logically after God decided to create.

      4) If God predestined A&E’s sin, then he is the author of evil. If they had free will, he did not predestine their sin.

      • Ross

        1. You believe God changes or can change?

        2. The problem with the post and your view is that it was based off their future decision which is predestined after he sees who would choose him. The problem is this creates a loop in time or circular reasoning. He knew he would die on the cross only after he knew they weren’t perfect. But before that he knew they weren’t perfect yet they still chose him before he had decided to go to the cross. Does this make sense? The cross is what allows salvation or them to choose, but his foreknowledge wouldn’t have gathered this immediately because he had to decide after he saw. Therefore they chose Christ before God even decided to send Christ?

        3. So God didn’t know what he was creating? Makes no sense. Plus eph 1. Declares that everything is according to his will including his FK.

        4.yes

      • 1. When God says that He does not change, he is speaking about His nature and character. When dealing with creation, there was nothing for God to know until he decided to create.

        2. I think God is timeless / above time. So he sees everything at once in a sense. It doesn’t make sense to box God in our understanding of the timeline.

        3. God knew what would happen when he decided to create. Again, this is a logical order, not a temporal one. Election in Eph 1 is pre-temporal, centered on Christ, and corporate for the church- “he chose us in him”. Individually election is conditional – only if we continue in faith (Col 1:22-23).

  23. Adrian

    Haven’t been to this thread before :-)

    “SF adherents believe that it is meaningless to speak of God knowing the actions of creatures that never exist”

    It’s called design. Something doesn’t exist so you design it.

    “God knew what would happen when he decided to create”

    So God’s only choice was to create, HE had no control over what he created?

    • Arminians believe God’s choice was to create moral creatures in his image. AW Tozer said it like this:

      “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”

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