The Doctrine of Salvation (part 1)

May 18, 2009     Time: 00:34:22

[Opening prayer]

We began last week on a new section on doctrine of salvation. We started by looking at the doctrine of election. We were first looking at the perspective that Calvinism takes upon the doctrine of election. There were two key passages that we wanted to look at. The first we looked at last week, and that was Ephesians 1:4-5. The second passage that we want to look at today is Romans 8:28-30.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

How does the Calvinist understand this passage? It is often said that God’s foreknowledge is the basis of his predestination. It says in verse 29, “those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” It might be thought that this means that God foreknew who would freely believe in him or he foreknew those who would place their faith in Christ if they were under certain circumstances in which they were offered God’s grace. But the Calvinist doesn’t understand the passage that way. Rather the Calvinist would say two things about this.

First, if the foreknowledge is referring to foreknowledge of people’s faith, if it is talking about how God foresees people’s faith, faith itself is a gift of God, not something that we can produce on our own. Unregenerate sinful man cannot have faith in God on his own so even if this is talking about foreknowledge of people’s faith, that doesn’t mean it is a result of their own free will because faith itself is a gift of God. Look at some passages with me.

John 3:3-8. Here Jesus speaking to Nicodemus says,

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”

What Jesus says here in the last verse is that those who are born of the Spirit are born because of the direction of the Spirit’s blowing. It blows where ever it wills, where ever it goes. You don’t know which way this is going to be. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.[1] It is not up to you to decide. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

John 6:44-45, 65:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

. . .

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

There you see that Jesus says that people cannot come to him unless the Father who sent him draws them. When people come to Christ it will be through the drawing power of the Spirit of God.

Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” There you see the idea of faith being a gift; it is not something that you have manufactured. It is a gift of God.

Finally, 1 Peter 1:2: “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” There again you have the reference they have been “chosen” according to the foreknowledge of God to be predestined to sanctification and sprinkling with the blood of Christ.

So on the Calvinistic view, even if what God foresees is faith, nevertheless faith itself is not something that the unregenerate man can produce. Rather it is something that God produces. It would still mean that salvation is something that comes unilaterally by God’s choice, not by human freedom. It is God who elects whom to save.

The second point that the Calvinist wants to make about foreknowledge is that foreknowledge really doesn’t mean God sort of looks ahead and sees the future. Rather, in the Hebrew context, to know somebody is to have a relationship with them – to love them, to choose them, to select them. So when it says those whom God foreknew, it really means those whom he loved in advance. Those whom he had picked out and he knew in a personally relationship. It doesn’t mean he just sort of had information about them.

Let’s look at some examples of the way this word is used. Genesis 18:19,

No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

There you have God referring to the call of Abraham. He says he knew Abraham. That is to say he had chosen Abraham; he had picked him out. It is not just that he knew about Abraham. After all, God knows about everybody. He knew him in this special sense.

Exodus 2:25, “And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition.” That is the way yours translates it. He “knew their condition” is the way my translation renders it. Again, that illustrates the point. It just didn’t mean he knew about them. It meant he was concerned about them. Knowledge is not just cognitive here, it is relational.

Psalm 1:6, “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Your translations are making the point in a way for me. The verse says, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” But the way it is translated there is he is watching over, he is caring about it.

In all of these passages, to know something means more than just to have cognitive information about it.

Finally, probably the clearest example would be Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” There even before Jeremiah was born God says, I knew you. I had set you apart. I appointed you to be a prophet. The Calvinist will say that when it says, Those he foreknew he also predestined, it is not talking about looking into the future and saying, I wonder who will believe in me; I’ll predestine them or anything of that sort. Rather, the idea is those whom he loved in advance whom he had chosen, those he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.[2]

We could do the following diagram, which comes from Charles Horn who was a theology professor at Wheaton College. He compares what goes on in God’s eternal counsel (as he puts it) with its actualization in time. In God’s eternal counsel we have first God’s foreknowledge; that is to say, those whom he foreloved. Then, following his foreknowledge, will be his predestination. This will be God’s ordaining that these persons be saved. There are, in God’s eternal counsel, his foreknowledge (or loving of certain persons) then his predestination which is ordaining them to salvation.

In time, however, this counsel is actualized sequentially in a different way. First comes God’s calling. In Romans 8 it says “those whom he predestined he also called.” This will be what is called effectual calling. We’ll talk about that in a minute. Effectual calling means that it actually produces its effect. He doesn’t just sort of beckon people and hope that they come. Rather, he brings them.

Then the next step is his justifying them. Those whom he called, he also justified. This will be justification by faith.

Finally, the last step is glorification. This will be assuredly and therefore one has assurance of salvation if one has been called and justified. It is not as though someone might fall away.

In time, then, the actualization of God’s eternal counsel takes place first through his effectual calling, those whom he called then he also justified by faith, and those that he justified he assuredly glorified.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The Greek word is proginosko. It literally means “foreknow.” “pro” is the prefix meaning “before.” And then “to know.” So it literally means to foreknow. It will be the context, I think, that will help you to determine exactly what is meant here. Roger Olsen has done a study of words like “know” and “foreknow” and so forth. I think he would agree with you that in fact the vast majority of these do not mean anything like “select” or “choose in advance.” It just means “to know.” The Calvinist interpretation of this as meaning “to love in advance” and so forth is not an open and shut case. It is very true in many cases you could substitute in the word “foreloved” or “loved” and it would make sense. The passage would make good sense. But that is not enough to prove that they are synonyms. So I think you are right about that. I think that there is reason to be skeptical of this claim.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: If you are interested in the reference for that, it is in my book The Only Wise God where I have a word study of these various words and refer to his word study that he did very thoroughly of all of the Hebrew and Greek words for “knowledge” and “foreknowledge.”

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It wouldn’t preclude it. I think that that would be the point here. He says couldn’t someone commit apostasy on this view? I think you would rightly see that, no, it wouldn’t be possible because those whom he called had to come, and those whom he called he justified unilaterally.[3] They had no part in it. Those who he justified, he will glorify. It would follow that someone cannot fall away. If you do see someone who is a vibrant Christian and later in life they fall away (those who don’t finish well) the Calvinist has to say they were never really regenerate in the first place. They were never really predestined; they weren’t part of the elect. They just had a psychological or emotion experience that made it look like they were Christians but they really weren’t.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: We’ll look at those the next time. What we are doing first is looking at the Calvinist view. Then we will contrast this with the other positions like Arminianism, for example.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That would be this other view – the more Arminian view. But that is not the Calvinistic view. On the Calvinistic view people have no ability to choose for God. They are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. So God has to choose them. Remember the passages we read from Jesus: No man comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And, You must be born again by the Spirit of God. We might have also quoted the verse where Jesus says, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit. The Calvinist will say that really there isn’t any ability to make that kind of a choice.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Do they have the ability to reject the call? We’ll talk about that when we get into more about effectual calling. What we’ll see there is that on the Calvinistic view you don’t really have the ability to reject God’s call if you are effectually called. If God has predestined you to be saved then you will respond. You don’t really have the ability not to be called because this is not a kind of calling which says, “Who so ever will may come – who so ever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” It is not like that. It is more of a calling where . . . like the one with Jeremiah where God says to him, Before you were born, I knew you, I chose you and appointed you to be my servant. You might say Jeremiah might have disobeyed. Well, the Calvinist doesn't think you really have the ability to do that in this regard.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is going on at some conference in Philadelphia? Well, I think it is great, at least, that the options are being put on the table. I spoke at Westminster Seminary in San Diego a few years ago and these folks hadn’t even heard of Molinism. They were so out-of-touch where contemporary debate was. I’m glad at least to hear things are on the table now.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I was using Horn’s diagram that is based on the Romans passage which doesn’t mention adoption. But clearly you would want to say that those who are justified are also adopted as sons and daughters of God. That’s right. So, yes, this isn’t meant to be complete.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I’ve said the other day in class that I don’t understand the difference between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism. It seems to me that Calvin was a hyper-Calvinist! I don’t think there is typically any difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.

It did occur to me after last week’s Sunday School that I did see possibly a difference where we could make a distinction between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism, but it is not where the line would normally be drawn. Remember someone asked last week, “What would the Calvinist say about God’s knowledge of how people would react under various circumstances if he were to offer them his grace?” What would God know if you reject the Molinist view? I said it seemed to me that what God would know on the Calvinist view is that he would know that no matter what circumstances people were in, no matter what gifts of grace or offers he were to make to them, they would freely refuse to believe.[4] Therefore they simply must be effectually called and chosen. If he left it up to them, God knew that no matter what offers he made they would not respond. I do think that that is what the Calvinist would say. But here’s where I think you could go higher than Calvinism and be a hyper-Calvinist. What you could say is not only is that true but that it is logically impossible for anyone to respond to God’s offers and to be saved. Not only is it true that nobody would, but there isn’t any possible world in which people have human freedom. In other words, human freedom is literally logically impossible.

Why would it be logically impossible? I think that the Calvinist would say because in those worlds creatures would be independent of God’s providence. The Calvinist has such a strong doctrine of sovereignty and providence that he wouldn’t want to countenance persons having freedom to do anything independent of him. In other words, suppose Adam had never sinned? Suppose Adam had not fallen into sin. Imagine a possible world in which there is no sin. There is just righteousness, and everybody always freely does the right thing. In such a world, there wouldn’t be any sinful barrier to people doing God’s will, but would the Calvinist want to say that therefore people freely do the right thing? I don’t think he would. I think the Calvinist would say even in a sinless world God is so sovereign and provident that everything people do and choose is determined by God. Otherwise they would be running independent of God’s sovereignty and providence. You see what I mean? What I am saying is that for the “real hyper-Calvinist” the problem isn’t sin. That is not really the problem. The problem is sovereignty and providence. You can’t have free creatures – even sinless creatures – who act independently of God’s decrees. If there is a difference between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism it might be that the hyper-Calvinist would say that human freedom is logically impossible. It is logically impossible for creatures to act with libertarian freedom independently of God. Whereas maybe the Calvinist has just never thought of that question, and the Calvinist just says given a fallen world nobody would choose for Christ and therefore God has predestined those whom will be saved and so forth. Do you see the difference I’m making here? That could be a difference.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. Even in a sinless world there would be no human freedom to do opposites – to do A or not-A.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Oh. OK. Yeah, sometimes people say that what the Calvinist says is that God chooses to elect those to be saved out of the mass of condemned humanity. Out of the mass of people going to hell he chooses to save some. That would be single predestination. But double predestination would be to say God chooses some to be saved, and he chooses some to be damned. So there is double predestination. He predestines some to be damned, and he predestines some to be saved. It seems to me that in the end there is no real difference between single- and double-predestination. Because if you predestined those to be saved whom you’ve chosen and you leave all the rest to be reprobate, well, you have predestined them to hell. That is the logical consequence. So I don’t see any difference between that. That might be where some people try to draw the line between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. The Calvinist believes in single-predestination and the hyper-Calvinist in double-predestination. But I guess since I don’t see a difference between those two, I don’t see that that is any different than just Calvinism. Calvinism just says everything that happens is determined by God. Everything that occurs is determined by God. I think that the hyper-Calvinist (if there is such a person) would be someone who says it is logically impossible that anything could happen that is not determined by God. Not only is everything that happens determined by God, but necessarily everything that happens is determined by God. Even in worlds where there were no sin, everything would be determined by God.[5] That is because of the strong, strong view of divine sovereignty that there is in Calvinism.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You are saying that the person who believes that you have the ability to make a free choice – that is something Calvinists cannot allow. Right?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I am abridging God’s sovereignty in some way if I can say, “I can make this choice in my own.” I think you are right. That is the way I understand it. That is what the Calvinist would say.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: on Calvinistic views, are God’s choices arbitrary and how is this to be reconciled with God’s justice? Remember what we said last time about Ephesians and that passage there. God’s justice would require that everyone be condemned. Everyone is sinful before God. No one deserves to be saved. If God saves anybody, this is a demonstration of his mercy. The driving motivation behind his election is his love. He chooses to save some to demonstrate his love and thereby to glorify himself.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That’s right. On the typical Calvinistic view, it is not that God foreknows something about that person and therefore chooses him. No. It is a choice which is God’s discretion. God chooses whom to save. His foreknowledge means he fore-loved them or fore-selected them or something of that sort. It is not arbitrary in the sense of sort of just rolling dice. It is motivated by his love. This is a loving, merciful act on God’s part. But there isn’t anything in the creature that would merit or cause God to choose a certain person.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: This is a good question. She says, “Why, on the Calvinistic view, would God not choose everyone?” Let’s just turn over to the Romans chapter 9 passage. This is about the best answer I think that the Calvinist can give to that very difficult question. Romans 9:19-24,

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory . . .

There he seems to say that the vessels made for destruction show God’s wrath and make known his power in contrast to those whom he has chosen to save. One cannot gainsay God’s ability to do this. I have heard Calvinists sometimes say that the damned (or the reprobate) serve to show God’s holiness and justice in the same way that the saved served to manifest God’s mercy and love.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The hope is that God has chosen some of the lost to be saved. If you hear the Gospel come to you and God speaks to your heart and you find that you believe then you can rejoice because you have been chosen by him before the foundation of the world. The hope is you will be one of the elect, one of the chosen. For those who are not elect, there is no hope for them because they are reprobate, they are passed over by God’s grace. But for those who are elect there is tremendous hope. If you are a non-Christian and you hear the message of the Gospel, if you feel yourself responding to it and believing in it and so forth, then rejoice and be glad because this is God’s work in you to produce faith and justification.[6]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, if you don’t then you get what you deserve. But you don’t get any saving grace.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Let’s be careful here. I think that what the Calvinist would say is that all unregenerate people hate God. Unregenerate people are enemies of God. Remember that is what Romans said. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes! Exactly! What God specializes in is saving hateful people who are his enemies. He doesn’t save people who were well-disposed toward him. What God does in showing his great grace and mercy is to take unregenerate, hateful enemies of God and turn them into his grateful children who then love him and so forth. There aren’t any people who are people who love God and want to serve him and so forth who are unregenerate.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That’s the line I took a few weeks ago on this passage when we discussed it. I think that that is right. What we are trying to do here is be fair and explain the view as best we can before we give some evaluation of it.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I’ve heard that same analogy. I’ll repeat it. When you get to heaven, the gate at heaven says “Who so ever will may come.” After you go through and you turn back and look at the gate it said, “You’ve been chosen from before the foundations of the world” or some such thing. The problem is how do you put those both together so that it is not just a contradiction in terms? I don’t think there is any glory in saying that Christianity is contradictory or irrational. That doesn’t glorify God. The traditional Calvinist, I think, doesn’t hold to a position that is mysterious in the way that your pastor suggested. I think he is trying to soften it a little bit to make it more acceptable. When you say it is a mystery, it takes the hard edge off of it. But Calvinism, as the theological system is explained, is, I think, quite clear. You don’t have the ability to make a choice for God. Therefore you are chosen by him and saved unilaterally by him. This is to the praise of his glory and mercy that he would do such a thing. Now, the question is whether or not that is the correct exegesis of these passages.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: These views are not original with Calvin, I think it should be said. There is a long tradition in church history, going back to Augustine, that wrestles with these same issues and positions.


What we’ll do next time is look in more detail at the Calvinistic understanding of calling. I’ve already suggested something about how he understands effectual calling. Then we will say something about the Calvinist view of regeneration – what it means to be born again on a Calvinistic view. Then we’ll turn to the Arminian point of view and see how Arminians understand these very same issues.[7]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:04

[3] 15:05

[4] 20:07

[5] 25:15

[6] 30:18

[7] Total Running Time: 34:22 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)