Friday, January 16, 2004

Hmm ... predestination rears its head yet again! Last night at Bible Study, our discussion of Luke's Gospel veered into this topic. We were discussing the question "why did Christ speak in parables?" Jesus gives the answer Himself in Luke 8 (paralleled in Matthew 13), where He quotes Isaiah. The gist of it seems to be that Christ used parables so that some people wouldn't understand and thus wouldn't turn to Him. Naturally, this quickly turned to a discussion on predestination, but I'm not sure it should have. Even if you don't believe in the Reformed view of election, isn't it at least feasible that Christ could have a temporal purpose for keeping most of his listeners "in the dark"? A few people raised the issue (and rightly so) that the confusion of the audience was part of the overall plan of the cross. Of course, we didn't actually get to the ramifications between this fact and the fact that a very large number of the ones blinded never came to faith.

Anyway, in the course of the discussion (which, thankfully, never got very heated), the bold statement that "God desires all men to be saved!" was thrown out repeatedly. And out of context. It's as if this handful of verses (drawn from I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9) automatically overwhelm the vast number of passages dealing with election, man's inability, etc. II Peter 3:9 was specifically quoted, but we ran short on time. As is my custom, I've been reflecting on this passage and what it actually means. The more I study, the more I'm convinced that this passage poses no contradiction whatsoever to the doctrine of election. A few thoughts:

1. The underlying assumption is that God "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" means that, because God wants every single human being to be saved, He would never work in violation of that by limiting salvation to the elect. However, who is "anyone" and "everyone"? Do we have good warrant to assume that it means "every single human" in this context? Perhaps not. The phrase immediately preceding states that God is patient to you, which is the "beloved" to whom Peter is writing in 3:1. So is the "anyone" universal, or is it limited to "any of you"? The latter seems to make more sense. Additionally, the examples of God's judgment in preceding chapters gives special attention to God's rescuing of the righteous from the wicked. This again seems to create a distinction between God's people, whom He saves, and the wicked, whom He destroys. So, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the "any" in 3:9 has a specific reference to believers (and Peter's audience in particular). This hardly undermines the Calvinist view of election. But, this limited view of "any" is not really inconsistent with an Arminian view, either. So, it makes a very poor proof-text for disproving the Doctrines of Grace.

2. But, assuming for a second that every single human is in view in II Peter 3:9, there still is not a contradiction for the Reformed view. And, an Arminian stance still has to wrestle with the indisputable fact that not "everyone" comes to repentance, and there are many who indeed perish. So, if God doesn't want them to perish, why does it still come to pass? Indeed, why does He actively enact His judgment on the wicked, as demonstrated throughout this epistle? The answer, I believe, is related to that last question.

If God's highest desire truly is that every single person not perish, and people actually do perish (as Scripture indicates), then we can only conclude that God is somehow incapable of saving them. However, most people won't go this route. Rather, they will say that people perish because they choose to reject God, and God would rather let them have their choice than to force them into the Kingdom. Therefore, God's highest desire is actually to allow man to have His free choice, and the desire that all men be saved is subordinate to this. The Reformed position would agree that God's desire that all men be saved is subordinate to His other desires. Bottom line: again, this passage can't be used to refute particular redemption.
John Piper has a much more thorough discussion of this idea here.

Anyway, this issue keeps popping up more and more among "real people" (i.e., not just internet people I dialogue with), so it looks like more study. West Merritts' sermon series through Romans will be reaching chapter 9 very soon, so I imagine this issue will keep popping up. Sort of like a bad rash.

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