Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“Theologians debate God’s foreknowledge”
It was the headline in Loveland, Colorado’s Reporter-Herald of December 6, 2003. (Thanks to one of our “contributors” from Loveland for the article.) The article, though dated, is really very current. Its report concerning the position of some calling themselves evangelical Christians shows the degree to which “Calvinists” or “conservative” Christians have fallen. The eternal foreknowledge of God represents one of those undebatable subjects for Christians—particularly Reformed Christians. It is surely part of the creeds of Reformed churches. There are also many scriptural texts that come to mind that set forth this doctrine.Romans 8:29-30 presents the order of our salvation—from foreknowledge to final glorification. There can be such an order only if God eternally knows all things that take place. There is Joseph’s statement to his brothers after the death of their father Jacob: “Ye meant it for evil but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). That could only beon the basis of God’s foreknowledge. There isEphesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world….” Peter presents the most striking instance of God’s foreknowledge on the day of Pentecost. In speaking of the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter declares it to be from the ascended Lord. Then in Acts 2:23 he states, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
Both confessionally and scripturally, the truth of God’s foreknowledge is clearly set forth.
It is, therefore, unsettling to read of those called “evangelicals” who are proposing that God does not have foreknowledge. The Loveland newspaper, in its religious section, has an article by Bill Broadway of the Washington Post. He begins:
John Sanders began to wonder about God’s intentions after his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.
As a 16-year-old high school student, Sanders was a photographer for the local newspaper in Hoopeston, Ill., when he was sent to the accident scene not knowing the victim’s identity. After seeing the horror before him, he turned to God and asked, “Why did you kill my brother?”
Sanders, now a professor of philosophy and religion at Huntington College in Indiana, said his confusion increased when well-intentioned friends said that his brother’s death was part of God’s plan—and that the plan must be to help Sanders accept Jesus as his Savior.
“I asked, ‘God killed my brother so I would become a Christian?'”
Thirty-two years later, Sanders, an evangelical Christian, still considers such arguments absurd and, over the years, has developed a view of God that he believes to be more realistic. He no longer asks whether God does terrible things to people, he said.
Instead, Sanders lays the responsibility directly on humans, arguing that they have the free will to make choices that determine events. God knows everything that happened in the past and is happening now, but God has no foreknowledge of events because the future has not happened, he said.
For promoting this view, called “open theism,” Sanders and other evangelical scholars have been challenged through increasingly vehement criticism on the Internet, in seminary trustee meetings and at gatherings of the Evangelical Theological Society, a 54-year-old professional association whose members must affirm biblical inerrancy and the doctrine of the Trinity.
…This dispute among academics reflects a growing debate among evangelicals at large over such issues as the relationship between God and humans, the effectiveness of prayer and the significance of making moral decisions.
Open theists, in essence, say there would be no point in praying for a sick child if God already knew what the outcome of the illness would be. Why struggle over making the right decision, they ask, if God has decided for you in advance? And how can you love anyone, even God, if that love is forced on you or away from you.
“It’s a fundamental incoherence to say we’re determined, yet I love,” Sanders said. If there is no free will, he added, “is God dancing with mannequins?”
The article continues by pointing out other evangelicals, especially Roger Nicole, 87, an internationally known theologian and native of Switzerland who advocates the predestination views of John Calvin. One can rejoice that there are many Reformed Christians who disagree with Sanders and continue to hold to infallible Scriptures. Indeed Sanders “has developed a view of God that he believes to be more realistic.” Sadly, however, it is his own “development” and is not scriptural.
It represents one more instance of the attempt to influence, infiltrate, and ultimately to destroy what is scriptural and Reformed. That we, mere mortals, have questions about the work of God’s foreknowledge is understandable. He is God—we are but men. But that does not allow one to “develop” doctrines that do not adhere to and are not derived from Scripture. By grace we must confess the scriptural presentation of God’s “foreknowledge.” That foreknowledge is not simply an awareness of what shall happen, but an awareness that is determinative at the same time.
“Marriage amendment and Christian beliefs”
Doubtlessly, all of our readers are aware of the raging debate about homosexual “marriages.” The debate really began a number of years ago when homosexuals insisted on “coming out of the closet” and flaunting their homosexuality before all of society. Churches became involved when homosexuals claimed to have the right of full membership though living in their sinful relationships. Then there was the claim that church members practicing homosexuality should have the privilege of functioning in the church offices. Now, sadly, increasingly there are those who claim to be Christian who insist that the right of homosexuals is a constitutional right. The constitution protects the “rights” of all religions—and forbids Congress from establishing a religion.
An instance of this idea was presented in Letters to the Editor in the Grand Rapids Press of March 15, 2004. There a certain Melanie Glover wrote:
I am writing in response to the Public Pulse letter “Standing up for God” as well as many of the arguments I have listened to in my conversations with all concerned about the legalization of gay marriage. The main arguments against gay marriage include phrases like “We started off as a Christian nation.” “America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” “What will come next?” And “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman only.” These all stem from religious beliefs held by many, but unfortunately they contradict the U.S. Constitution. If the U.S. Congress were to ban gay marriage, it would in fact violate the First Amendment that prohibits Congress from establishing a religion.
Religion, by definition, consists of a set of beliefs, one that is much too prevalent in the support of a ban on gay marriage that consequently would declare America as the Christian nation traditionalists favor.
This religious justification for the ban comes at the expense of the gay community’s right to freedom of expression through its own sexual identities. If the U.S. government gives every American the right to determine his or her own religion, we should not expect every American to choose Jesus as the only way, regardless of founding values.
We should not assume God’s laws to be upheld by a Constitution that explicitly states that every American may choose by what values and morals he or she will live. As a believer in Christ, I do not think imposing my Christian beliefs on a man or woman who defines his or her sexual orientation differently than I do will bring them closer to the arms of God. Taking away one’s free will undermines that God-given gift and rejects the power of God to change lives through values like acceptance and openness.
One might debate the wisdom of defining constitutionally what marriage is (especially when laws already make this plain). One might debate whether in fact this nation was established on Christian principles—though indeed the Deity is mentioned by founding fathers. No Reformed Christian would agree that there is a “free will” as a “God-given gift.” But what is particularly disquieting, and this letter is but representative of a growing attitude of “Christians” of our day, is that we must, constitutionally, allow all religions to adhere in our country to their own religious convictions—since Congress may not establish (nor condemn) any religion nor its practices.
I say this is disturbing. The letter-writer states, in fact, that one has a constitutional right to define his or her sexual orientation in a way different from the norm. By extension, the Muslim presumably has the right in our land to marry many wives and divorce them arbitrarily by fiat. When government cannot interfere with the “rights” of any religion to define its own forms of marriage—surely the Muslim may marry many wives. The government that may not interfere with religious practices of any religion, must honor the religious laws of the Muslims. If their religious laws demand the cutting off of the hand that steals, surely the government cannot forbid this. The same applies to the religion of the Mormons. The position still held by many of them is that they may have multiple wives—indeed ought to have this. So—what right does the government have to interfere with their religion?
And if one has a constitutional right to practice his own “sexual orientation differently than I do,” then what about pedophiles? If it is one’s nature to have a sexual relationship with young children, what right has the government to forbid this? One might conclude that whatever one’s “orientation,” he ought to be given the right to follow it.
We are rapidly approaching the condition of Israel in the days of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Today, many would maintain, it is one’s constitutional right to do according to his own personal convictions.
Yet governments must maintain a certain “ethic” consistently. If not the “Judeo-Christian” ethic, then what? A combination of the ethics of all religions found in this country? But that would result in anarchy. It is true that the government cannot impose Christianity on all its peoples. Scripture does not teach that either. Still, marriage between one man and one woman is a creation ordinance. One can violate that ordinance only to his own hurt.
In Romans 2:15 we are told: “Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” It is the work of the law written in their hearts—not the law itself. The law forbids adultery—the wicked, though refusing to hold to God’s law, nevertheless know within themselves that adultery is wrong. So it is also with marriage. What we are seeing, then, today is the fact that God is “giving them up unto vile affections” (Rom. 1:24) and that “God gives them over to a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28). Our country increasingly wallows in the cesspools of iniquity and increasingly reflects the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah of the Old Testament. It is the judgment of God that we are seeing. It is sad, then, that any Christian should defend all of this as a matter of “constitutional right” because of one’s “orientation.”