Monday, 24 January 2011


Dr Bruce Ware addressed about thirty people at LTS today on the doctrine of providence. In his helpful books 'God's Lesser Glory' and 'God's Greater Glory' he has first defended a Calvinist / Biblical view of providence against Open Theism, then put more positively the case for a Biblical portrayal of God's foreknowlege and sovereignty.

This was more or less the pattern he developed today and we are thankful to him for it.

Many thoughts were sparked off. For example, have you ever thought that the Arminian concept of God's 'simple foreknowledge' without divine foreordination, makes God effectively powerless with regard to the future? For if God can see the future (which of course he does), then it includes all of history and reality as it 'really' is - and it includes of course God's own acts. Therefore it cannot be changed. God's simple foreknowledge (including that on the basis of which Arminians allege God 'elects' those who will believe, to eternal life) leaves God unable to change the future (or the eternal present, as it is to him).

There was discussion about the 'asymmetrical' relation of God to good and evil, too. Romans 9:22,23 indicates that in relation to persons, distinguishing between those who are justified and those who are condemned, there is 'unequal ultimacy', in that God takes into account the acts of the condemned - there is an impersonal aspect to their 'being prepared' for destruction which leaves place for their own agency, while the grace of God which saves those destined for eternal life is personal - he 'has prepared beforehand for glory' those who will be saved. Yet clearly in both cases God is sovereign.

But our discussion was more about good or evil acts, not persons. One issue arising was: does God, or does he not, actually work in our choices, even the evil ones, or does he work in the good ones and then only lead us 'so far' along the evil track but leave us to make up our sinful mind? Is this a way to protect God from being the author of sin?

It is a complex subject but I suggest this is not the way to go. It hardly honours God to suggest he leaves us near the brink of a cliff, knowing it is extremely likely we will fall over (i.e. do wrong) rather than actually pushing us. The defence of God against being the author of evil must be found elsewere or we will be Arminians when it comes to sin and Calvinists when it comes to good works.

We risk denying God's immanence in all our thinking, willing and doing, if we suggest that in some part of our decision making processes he is not present. In him after all we live and move and have our being. He works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure(Phil 2:12,13). The Reformed principle of concursus is valuable and well worth preserving - God is at work and immanent in all things.

Must we not find our defence of God in the distinction between his being ontologically present but morally not the cause of sin? Not that it is something I can understand, but it seems safer than going down the route of God 'stopping short' in our evil actions but not in our good ones. Is there not sin in even the best of our actions anyway?

Which means, it also seems to me, that the distinction between libertarian and compatibilist freedom, though important(and compatibilism is still surely the correct view) becomes secondary; the real issue is whether God acually works in our choices or simply in persuading us and influencing our minds and our environment, whether for good or ill.

Further as the Westminster Confession (chapter III.i) says, it is not only true that God has ordained all that comes to pass, but that thereby the freedom of secondary causes is actually established. There is a certain determinism about compatibilism ('I do what my highest inclinations or strongest desires incline me to') if that is all there is in my decision-making process. But if God is there and is in my decisions, then I am not determined by what I most want, but am acting 'concurrently' with God. Thereby my freedom of action is established.

Moreover, God has ordained all things; yet how can there be any absolute certainty about anything (even sins) if God is not involved up to the last 'nano-second' of my decision making? How can God be absolutely sure of my final decision, albeit he has 'set the scene', and it may be 99.999% certain I will do what is 'expected', but so long as there is a fraction of a chance I may act differently, then nothing is certain. And God's ordination must extend to evil things as well as good. Surely that is what the story of Joseph is all about: Gen 45:4-8; 50:20. It is after all the acts rather than the inclinations of the brothers which is the focus here of God's foreordination.

It is no good being Arminian or 'open theist' as to our sins and Calvinist as to our good acts. We have no 'good' acts anyway! God is the ordainer of all things, though the author only of good, not of sin.

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