God Can Know the Free Acts of Man without Making Them Determinatively Necessary | Part Two

November 12, 2015

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Click HERE for Part One.

God’s knowledge not only includes the significant counterfactual potentialities, but it even includes the mundane such as knowing every bird that falls from the sky and the number of hairs on everyone’s head (Matthew 10:29—30). Both states are ever changing and rather unimportant, and yet God has eternally known everything about all of them because He is essentially omniscient; such neither entails nor even suggests that He micro-causally predetermined each changing state.

The Bible portrays many things as contingent, such as wisdom being conditioned upon seeking and asking (Proverbs 2:1—12; 4:5—7; 6:16; James 1:5). He grants grace to the ones who choose humility over pride (1 Peter 5:5). This genre of conditionality as well as the voluminous passages regarding the promise of blessing or cursing as contingent upon the decision of man (Genesis 2:16—17; Deuteronomy 11:26—28) as well as salvation being contingent upon the choice of man and judgement upon same (Romans 10:8—11); all of which gives every indication of otherwise choice.

There is nothing contradictory nor deficient in understanding the biblical portrait of man’s knowledge being uncertain while God’s is certain; as a matter of fact, that is the most lucid understanding. Man may in fact even be certain that he will act a certain way, at a certain time, under certain conditions, and actually end up acting differently than he truly believed that he would; God’s knowledge of such future event and choosing is not so uncertain. Peter offers us an example of such.

Christ told Peter that he would deny Him, and Peter adamantly rejected such a notion (Matthew 26:34—35). In the presence of Jesus, Peter could not imagine such; however, Jesus knew that one day Peter would not be in His presence, and under the conditions of that moment, Peter would in fact choose to deny Christ. This happened after Christ had been taken prisoner. At the time of Peter’s unthinkable denial, the conditions had changed and were far different than Peter could have imagined when he stood so strong in the presence of Christ. The point of denial came when Peter was alone, scared, sad, and it was night. Peter’s emotions were disconcerted and the host of uncertainties were confusing and daunting; in that crucible of temptation, he did what he previously exclaimed with certainty that he would never do and what Christ said he would do. He denied Christ his Lord whom he loved no less at the temptation than at the time of strength. Christ, knowing all of that along with knowing Peter exhaustively, knew Peter would deny Him. Peter’s shock and regret that he had failed to stand by His Lord is evident when Peter wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).

This uncertainty about Peter’s decision was not uncertain to God. Christ always knew this, not because Peter was predetermined (the passage does not even hint at such), but rather Christ omnisciently knew the choice Peter would make before he made it, and this in spite of his determination to do otherwise. As God, Christ always knew what Peter would choose in different circumstances. Christ’s knowledge of such does not necessitate predetermination, either by decree or otherwise, but it only requires essential omniscience. Therefore, that man will act in a particular way is certain to God, but it is not necessary as to causality. Had Peter chosen to act differently, God would have eternally known that. Even if uncertainty is nothing in time and space, that does not mean it is an absolute uncertainty (nothing), because uncertainty is a property of man’s knowledge but not God’s.

Charles Hodge says, “In virtue of his omniscient intelligence, He knows whatever infinite power can effect; and that from the consciousness of his own purposes, He knows what He has determined to effect or to permit to occur.”[1] (italics added) Again, I think we can all agree with this statement. The disagreement lies maybe in what His “infinite power can effect” (can He be sovereign over truly free—otherwise choice—beings or is that beyond His infinite power), or for sure the disagreement lies in what “He has determined to effect…permit.” Contrary to Calvinism, the biblical narrative depicts man created in God’s image, which includes otherwise choice; with such freedom, God gives the range of options that are available to man “who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). This freedom is not a potential thwarter to His plan and will. While it is a force, it is not a force external to His sovereignty. Rather, it is a vital component that bespeaks of His majestic power, wonder, and glory.

It is important to note that the idea of “permit” in Calvinism is quite different than used by Extensivists, Scripture, and people in everyday language. In Calvinism, it is no less causally determined than anything else, i.e. it is decreed or the result of compatible freedom. In contrast, Extensivists understand the idea of “permit” to be God giving freedom to do other than His holiness and mercy would actually desire one to do at that moment—evil. While always desiring holiness, He permits contrarieties, yet He is not defeated by such. Rather, all such rebellion is comprehended in His will and is ultimately overcome. This in contrast to determinism wherein God did desire such horror that He created a world in which such is causally predetermined rather than the consequence of man wrongly using the good gift of otherwise choice—the efficient cause.

The Calvinist’s determinism of all is seen once more when Hodge says, “A free agent, it is said, can always act contrary to any amount of influence brought to bear upon him, consistent with his free agency. But if free acts must be uncertain, they cannot be foreseen as certain under any conditions.”[2] Again we see the Calvinist conundrum being due in large measure to applying the uncertainty of man to God. The fallacy and problem arise from equating the actor’s uncertainty to being equivalent to uncertainty with the Creator—God. Of course, the act is uncertain to the actor, but not to God. As to certainty and infinite knowledge, His knowledge of such seems no more discursive than decreeing something to be. Both are in that sense always known within God, intuitively, since He has always known everything—potential, actual, possible, and conditional—and He looks no further than Himself for such knowledge.

Part Three Coming Soon!

 

[1] Shedd Dogmatic Theology, vol. I, 398.
[2] Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. I, 399—400.

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Jim P

Pastor Rogers, I appreciate you grappling with extremely complex issues. To really have direction I hope you are open to dialog about them. You’re point of Christ’s being omniscient would have conflict with His humanity. I don’t see it was necessary for Him to be omniscient to know Peter would deny Him. He, Christ, not under the authority of sin, as the world and Peter was, might be sufficient to give Him the insight that Peter would succumb to the authority of sin and not the authority of God. After the resurrection and Pentecost, Peter was still Peter but now capable of not succumbing to that authority and capable of following the authority of Christ.

I hope this might be some consideration toward your work.

Thank You

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Hello Jim
    Hello Jim

    Thank you for your comments

    You said, “Your point of Christ’s being omniscient would have conflict with His humanity. I don’t see it was necessary for Him to be omniscient to know Peter would deny Him.

    First I do not believe that Christ’s deity, nor any of His attributes of deity, poses a conflict with His humanity. As far as Philippians 2:5-11, I believe that He surrendered the independent exercise of His attributes of deity, but He did not divest Himself of those attributes, nor could He and be God. Sometimes we see His humanity on full display and other times we see His deity, but both exist simultaneously; each becomes more prominent at times according to the will of the Father. He is fully God and fully man.

    The particular place you are referring to says, “This uncertainty about Peter’s decision was not uncertain to God. Christ always knew this, not because Peter was predetermined (the passage does not even hint at such), but rather Christ omnisciently knew the choice Peter would make before he made it, and this in spite of his determination to do otherwise. As God, Christ always knew what Peter would choose in different circumstances. Christ’s knowledge of such does not necessitate predetermination.”

    The point of which being that Christ’s eternal knowledge as God of Peter’s actions, of which Peter was uncertain, does not necessitate determinism nor uncertainty for God since He is essentially omniscient.

    Note that I say, “Christ as God.” Even if one supposes that Christ did not have to derive such knowledge at that moment from His omniscience as God (He as a man could have been informed by the Father), it still is the fact that prior knowledge of human actions by the Father given to the Son that are uncertain to man are certain to God without man being determined.

    Thank you

    Jim P

    Hello Pastor Rogers,

    Thank you for the follow up. You did focus my comments more on what you are addressing in your article, i.e, the point of determinism. There are question that still surface on this topic. It seems obvious that Peter had no intentions to deny Christ, yet, he did, and yet, he was free. Christ, on the other hand, and had no intention of rejecting the cross and He did not. If we apply the criteria you are using in the difference between Christ and Peter, then why was Peter not able to resist? And why was Christ able? Because Christ was God? It seems, following the history of Peter, he was able to resist in the future and we know he was not deity. In fact every believer is called on to follow like Peter, Rom. 8:12.

    Thank you

      Andy

      Regarding Peter’s early failure, and later success (though we know he still failed later in one area when he was refusing to eat with Gentiles), I think it can be explained 2 ways:

      1. Purely analytically, The peter who denied Jesus was still spiritually immature, and possibly having doubts if Jesus was really the messiah, since he had just been arrested. The Peter who spoke boldly after the resurection was a man emboldened by the victory of his King over death, and who now had the confidence that nothing could stand in the way of Jesus’ mission.

      2. Add to this, the fact that at pentacost, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and we have a pretty good explanation of the change that occured in Peter.

      Incidently, this is why we need much more than the TEACHINGS of Jesus; Peter had 3 years of personal teaching from Jesus, and yet what he needed to be an effective and bold witness was the Death & Resurection, and the Spirit of Jesus within him. That’s where they power is.

      Ronnie W Rogers

      Hello Jim

      Jim, unfortunately, I do not believe that I am able to understand or further answer your question any further than my article and previous response, but I will try. Please forgive me if I miss the essence of your point in this question.

      You said, “If we apply the criteria you are using in the difference between Christ and Peter, then why was Peter not able to resist?” I did not bank Christ’s assurance that Peter would sin upon Peter’s inability to resist, but rather upon God’s eternal omniscience of what would happen in that moral moment of decision in time; that he would not so choose. In discussing these issues, one has to, in my opinion, keep in mind that God has always known what a person would do because He is essentially omniscient, but that did not necessarily cause him to act thusly. Had Peter chosen to resist, God would have known that.

      I will say, that libertarian freedom, while a force, is not a force external to the sovereignty of God, but rather a sovereignly given force over which He is still the sovereign. It just seems that in the Scripture, He chooses to allow man to choose between accessible options always knowing what He would choose. Yet, at times He does override one’s libertarian freedom to keep one from going beyond what He will permit. The limitation of libertarian freedom in one area is not the illumination of such e.g. one in prison etc., is not divested of libertarian freedom only some of the previous range of choices are gone.

      Thank you

        Bill Mac

        Ronnie: I think you are right, God can definitely restrict a person’s free will by limiting their choices by changing their circumstances. ( I think that’s what you are saying). My question is this: Do you think God ever exercises sovereignty over man’s LFW by directly influencing his desires or thought processes?

          Ronnie W Rogers

          Hello Bill Mac

          Thanks for your comments, and interesting question.

          You said, “Do you think God ever exercises sovereignty over man’s LFW by directly influencing his desires or thought processes?”

          Not trying to dodge the question, but I do not know; if He did (and He may), that would not eradicate LFW from the nature of an individual any more than humans using some technology to produce outward actions by internal means. It would just mean at that time, the individual is not responsible for the resultant actions.

          Libertarian freedom is a force, and it is a created force. Thus, it is created just like everything else that exist, and that is by the pleasure and power of the sovereign God. Consequently, He can and does limit what He will permit one to do with His libertarian freedom by whatever means He chooses to employ—we see this vividly in Scripture with people in power working against God’s plan. Calvinists often erroneously charge that libertarian freedom makes man sovereign (a mistake made by James White in a critique of a message of mine, see responses to part one of this article), which is a serious misunderstanding of libertarianism.

          I hope this helps, Thank you

            Bill Mac

            Ronnie: Thanks for your response. In terms of God changing a person’s desires or thought processes, isn’t that what we think, in part, regeneration is?

              Ronnie W Rogers

              Hello Bill Mac
              Yes, and I think the order is, God’s preconversional work (Grace enablements), faith and regeneration (new birth).

              Thank you

      Mackenzie

      I’m reading this exchange and am very puzzled by your leap from Rogers’ “prior knowledge of human actions” to your insistence that Peter “was not able to resist.” Where do you see that in the text? Where do you see that in Rogers’ discussion of foreknowledge?

      In fact, as an aside, I see no problem in saying that even AFTER Jesus’ statement, Peter STILL had the real choice and ability of not denying Christ. See 2 Kings 20 for a similar instance of God foretelling a future action with absolute certainty, then CHANGING that future in light of prayer. Had Peter responded in prayerful repentance and honest petition, rather than denial and boasting, I think it’s entirely possible that he could have remained faithful to Christ. Prayer changes things, even the future.

      JIm P

      Pastor Rogers & Mackenzie,

      I would like to use Mackenzies comments to try to clarify my point. The premise of the article is correct, that of the calvinist position of ‘determinism’ suggesting God directing wrong is wrong. It is the arguments that support that premise that need clarity. Mackenzies’ comment about Peter, ‘able to do what is right’ under the circumstances he was in does not appreciate the actual circumstances of the time. Peter was under an influence that no one except the Lord was able to overcome, that is rule of sin: Rom. 3:9 ¶ What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all Under Sin. Peter wanted to do right, he could not. A rule was in place strong then he was. Only Christ could defeat that rule at that time.
      It was only until the coming of the Spirit that that rule was defeated for Peter. So in some way, it was determined that Peter, like Israel would fail. Not on God’s part but because of the nature of the World prior to the resurrection. These are essentials of the work God is doing.

      Pastor Rogers, my motive is to dialog with respect and to contribute to what is right. I hope these interaction show that. Thank you for your part in them.

        Mackenzie

        I’m sorry, but this seems absurd. Why THIS sin in particular, and no other sin? Why now and not any other time?

        Why is Peter not irresistibly under “the rule of sin” in John 6:68, when he remains when nearly all other disciples forsake Jesus?

        Why is he not irresistibly under the rule of sin when he attempts to walk across the waves? (that he eventually fails is not relevant, for he succeeds at first).

        Why is he not irresistibly under the rule of sin when he follows Jesus to begin with?

        You seem to be reading your assumptions into the text, rather then letting the text inform them: Where Peter succeeds, he MUST have something that enables him to succeed…when he fails, he MUST lack the thing that allows him to do that, thereby rendering his failure certain. Instead, when we look at Peter’s actual character, and his actual interactions with Christ, a very different picture emerges: That of a flawed man, who combines a deep love for Christ with a hasty, often-immature character. He does indeed have a real choice here, just like he has in his entire relationship with Christ.

        Ronnie W Rogers

        Hello Jim

        You said, ” Peter wanted to do right, he could not. A rule was in place strong then he was. Only Christ could defeat that rule at that time. It was only until the coming of the Spirit that that rule was defeated for Peter. So in some way, it was determined that Peter, like Israel would fail.”

        Is it then your position that prior to the cross, no one chose rightly? I would not agree with that if such is the case. That Peter was determined is not in the text, nor necessary to Christ’s (as God) certain knowledge that he would sin.

        Thanks, and I appreciate your spirit in this discussion.

        Jim P

        Hello Pastor Rogers & Mckenzie,

        As I mentioned, I don’t think you are realizing the world Peter, the disciples, the Jews, and the Gentiles lived. The resurrection did not happen, there was no ‘Spirit of God’ dwelling with anyone. The power of the world was force, crucifixion. It is the gospel’s story. Peter could, to a degree, do the right he wanted but in a ultimate confrontation, at the crucifixion, he didn’t have what was necessary to face the cross like the Lord. And he did want to. In the future he would. Lack of appreciation of that world before God’s work in Christ is going to hurt and result in a lack of appreciation of what the gospel accomplished and is accomplishing now. Sin’s rule is still competing with God’s rule in the world and God’s work in believers is to display to the world the new rule in Christ, i.e., the gospel.

        It was sin that ultimitely determined people’s behavior (the OT is full of graphic examples) like the threat of crucifixion did, not God. Being free from that ‘rule’ opened to door to being ruled by God. Two different rules, two different values, two different goals. No middle ground. Peter was made painfully aware of that.

        For Believers to be effective they have to have the same awareness Peter had.

        Thanks

          Jim P

          Some clarifying is in order: Peter wanted to stay true to the Lord. He was not able, Period. The overwhelming problems of the circumstances determined his behavior. How could the Christ be facing crucifixion? This is why the gospel is a ‘scandal’ to the Jews. The foundation of the problems of Peter and the Jews was the ‘ruling power of sin.’ Paul’s comment in Romans is graphic and clear:

          Rom. 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
          Rom. 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.

          “I will to do, I do not practice.” Frightening. Makes one appreciate the work God is accomplishing.

David R. Brumbelow

For years I’ve thought Calvinists have a lower view of God if they think God cannot give man a truly free will, yet still know the future decisions and actions of that person.
If God is God, His foreknowledge of the future decisions of his free creation is no difficult task.
David R. Brumbelow

    Steve Williams

    David, in response to, “Calvinists have a lower view of God if they think God cannot give man a truly free will, yet still know the future decisions and actions of that person.” This is not what the Reformed assert.

      Scott Shaver

      Some “Reformed” assert it in pretty strong and declarative fashions, Steve, Nothing makes a lot of them I run across more touchy than the subject of free will.

      Perhaps the “reformed” you know are of a different stripe than the ones I keep running into last 30 years.

      I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that the free will of man has to exist or they wouldn’t have such problems with it :)

Steve Lemke

Ronnie, as usual, you’ve really nailed it on this issue. Some Calvinists try to put all non-Calvinists in the Openness of God category, but we are no more comfortable with that view than we are Calvinist double predestination. This is a truly balanced view that maintains the tension in Scripture between God’s absolute foreknowledge and human freedom — both of which, by the way, also affirmed in the Baptist Faith and Message.

Scott Shaver

David:

I understand Jim P to be raising legitimate questions about any limitations God might have imposed upon himself in the incarnation (i.e. the question of humanity vs attributes of “omniscience” in the “suffering servant” human role.

Jim P raises a very good question about what the “humanity” of Jesus did or did not involve. I tend to agree with him to the extent of “highly discerning” as opposed to omniscient in the flesh.

I could be wrong.

Bill Mac

In or out of Calvinism, I always assumed God’s foreknowledge was a product of him being transcendent over time, not because he actively determines every single event. And it is silly to think that God cannot get someone to do what He wants without abrogating his free will. However I think it is also wrong to think a human’s will is somehow inviolate and off limits to God’s intervention. I don’t know if anyone is suggesting that but it sometimes seems like it.

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