Category Archives: Attributes of God

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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Differences in Calvinism and Arminianism

It is easier to respect the position of someone whom you disagree with if you can understand their motivation.  Therefore, it is helpful to identify the foundational differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.

God’s Primary Attribute: Calvinists understand God primarily in terms of power and authority. God is sovereign in a deterministic sense.  Nothing happens without God’s decree.  Any doctrine that limits God’s power is viewed with suspicion by the Calvinist, even if it’s a self imposed limitation of God’s choosing.  Arminians understand God primarily as relational. Arminians believe that God is willing to set aside his rights in order to be reconciled with humanity. God did this because of his great love for humanity.  Power vs Relationship is the primary difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.

The purpose of the fall: Calvinists believe that God created mankind in such a way that the fall  was certain and necessary.  God purposed the fall to display his attributes of  justice and mercy, which in turn display his glory and greatness.  Arminians don’t believe that the fall was necessary. God purpose was relational.  He created man with the ability to freely respond to him in love.  In order to facilitate genuine relationship, Adam and Eve and their posterity needed to have the capability to do things that God did not ultimately prefer.

The Source of God’s Foreknowledge:  Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, However, the source of God’s foreknowledge is different in the two systems.  In Calvinism, everything that happens is certain and necessary.  God knows everything because he has decreed for everything to come to pass.   In Arminianism, man’s doing is the cause of God’s knowing.  God sees our future choices and knows what we will do.  This is a logical order, because God has always had this knowledge.  Arminians  make a distinction between certainty and necessity.  Knowing something will take place is different than causing it to take place.

Grace: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.  Both believe that man must be drawn by God in order for him to want to be saved.  We disagree on the nature and extent of grace.  Calvinists believe that drawing grace is effectual and particular.  Those whom God chooses to be saved will certainly be saved.  God elects to save certain individuals and passes over others.  Arminians believe that drawing grace is universal and resistible.  God desires for all to be saved and draws all to himself.  Drawing grace can be resisted by the individual, to his own detriment.


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The Jealousy of God and Calvinism

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14

A disturbing aspect of Calvinism is how it does damage to God’s character. By improperly defining the sovereignty of God, Calvinists cannot adequately account for other aspects of God’s character.

Calvinism is not compatible with the jealousy of God. If depraved humanity is doing what God has decreed, the jealousy of God is not real. If God’s jealousy is genuine, determinism must be false. God’s is jealous because his people, whom he loves, are not in relationship with him as he would prefer.

One of the Hebrew names for God is El Kanna (or El Qanna). Jealous God. El is a title, and indicates an intrinsic aspect of who God is.

El Shaddi – Mighty God
El Olam – Eternal God
El Elyon – Most High God
El Roi – All Seeing God
El Kanna – Jealous God

God’s jealousy is on the same level as his qualities that we typically associate with sovereignty – qualities like might and omnipresence.

God is jealous because he is sovereign and his people behave like he is not. God created us and sustains us. He is the only one worthy to be praised and worshiped. He does not settle for being one of many. He is THE one, there is no other. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). When we fall short of this command, God is jealous. And rightfully so. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. (Deut 6:13-15)

The prominence of the jealous God is apparent in the second commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol….You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.(Literally: I Yahweh Elohim-of you El Kanna Exodus 20:4-5 Hebrew interlinear)

The jealous nature of the Lord is often spoken of in scripture (Ex 20:5, 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Jos 24:19; Isa. 9:7; Zech. 1:14, 8:2.)

God’s jealousy indicates his commitment. He cannot be jealous if he does not care. God’s jealousy indicates his involvement. He cannot be jealous if he created a world that is on fatalistic auto-pilot.

God’s jealousy is active. Kanna communicates a sense of being committed to a course of action. It is sometimes translated as zealous. “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end…The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (literally – kanna of Yahweh Isaiah 9:7 Hebrew interlinear).

In the New Testament, a zealot (like Simon the zealot) was called Kananaios. The zealots were willing to die to free Israel from Rome. God is willing to die to free us from sin. The jealousy of God is not the sort where he sits and pouts. God’s jealousy motivated him to send Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. God’s jealousy is always a catalyst to action.

Human jealousy is usually a bad thing. It is self-centered and covetous. We want something that is not ours. We selfishly desire someone who does not rightfully belong to us. In relationships, human jealousy is interested in self gratification and not the well being of the other. God desires our well being. He is jealous for our completeness in him. He knows that to be in relationship with him is the only thing that will ever truly fulfill us. God is jealous when we don’t follow him. He is jealous for us (Zech 8:2). He is jealous when our loyalties are divided. God wants us to be the people that he intended us to be.

The book of Hoesa gives insight into the jealousy of God. God’s relationship with Israel was likened to Hosea’s relationship with Gomer.

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1)

The jealousy of God shows his vulnerability. The God of the Bible is hurt and experiences pain when we reject him. As Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea and caused him pain, Israel was unfaithful to God and caused him pain. God’s relationship with Israel was based in love, and was like a marriage covenant. When Israel violated its marriage vow, God was jealous. He was jealous because he was rejected by his covenant people whom he loved and cared for.

Jealousy does not make sense in the Calvinist system. Determinism mocks it. Detachment makes it impossible. Arbitrary wrath makes it irrelevant.

The jealousy of God is not genuine in a world where events are inevitably determined. A.W. Pink wrote that:

God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth, and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance; instead, He fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals, and all the particulars which will comprise the history of the human race from its commencement to its close.

John Calvin wrote:

men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction.

Louis Berkhof wrote:

The decree of God however, carries with it necessity. God has decreed to effectuate all things or, if He has not decreed that, He has at least determined that they must come to pass. He has decided the course of man’s life for him.

In Calvinism, God becomes jealous of the course of man’s life that he has decided for him! God is jealous that his creatures are behaving in a way that he has inevitably caused. How absurd. Such a shallow concept of jealousy mocks the heart of God.

Jealousy is not genuine if God is detached. Just as Hosea was jealous when Gomer was unfaithful to him, God was jealous when Israel was unfaithful to him. If God was not concerned with Israel, or if God is not concerned with what or who we give affection to, he could not and cannot be jealous. God is jealous because he is affected by our rejection of him. If God is detached and aloof, if he does not participate in genuine relationship, he is not jealous.

Jealousy is not genuine if God’s wrath is arbitrary. God is wrathful because he is jealous, and he is jealous because we are separated from him. It is important to remember the active zeal of God’s jealousy. God’s wrath is displayed in his zealous pursuit of humanity, and is instigated by the possibility of of reconciliation. When God punishes it comes about as a result to his spurned affection (Hosea 7:13). In Calvinism, God’s wrath is divorced from reality. It is based on secret arbitrary decrees rather than from the identifiable motivations given in scripture.

In summary, the jealousy of God is genuine. Jealousy is an intrinsic part of God’s character. In Calvinism, the jealousy of God is not genuine. Determinism, detachment, and arbitrary punishment make it impossible for God to have genuine jealousy. God’s jealousy occurs because he created people for genuine relationship with him, and those people have rejected him instead. The fact that Calvinism cannot account for the jealousy of God demonstrates that the system is false.

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