What Is Predestination?

Predestination is the idea that God has predestined everything that comes to pass, including those who will be saved. In my opinion, there seems to be two errors concerning this doctrine: 1) People deny predestination, or 2) People accept predestination and deny free-will. Both of these errors are unbiblical; a sound Christian theology will affirm predestination and human free-will (Molinism).

A popular passage on predestination is in Romans 8:29-30; it reads as follows: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” What’s important about this passage is that, while it affirms predestination, it does not explain it. It seems to me that, if we endeavor to explain predestination, we must do so in a way that is compatible with all of Scripture.

In looking at this text, notice first it begins with foreknowledge, and this is prior to anything else. Obviously, if God has foreknowledge, everything is predestined from His perspective; nothing is going to be a surprise to God, for He knows and is in control of everything that will happen prior to Him creating the world. However, if He chooses to create a world with free creatures, that would also imply another type of knowledge, namely, middle knowledge.

Middle knowledge has to do with knowing what free creatures will freely do or freely choose in any circumstance; the Bible actually affirms middle knowledge when Jesus says, “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day” (Matthew 11:23). This is one clear example of God having middle knowledge. Other passages could also be used, but I think it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that, if God has all-knowledge, He would also have middle knowledge.

To illustrate further, consider a world in which God placed me in Nazi Germany, and I freely rejected the Gospel. In that scenario, God’s sovereignty is not compromised, nor is my free choice; the same could be said for the actual world. The question then becomes, “Why the actual world instead of the other?” Well, the answer at this point should be obvious: If God desires all to come to salvation, which He does (1 Timothy 2:4), He would choose the world in which I would be saved. The same goes for everyone; however, those who refuse to be saved in this world, would probably have done so in any world. This seems perfectly reasonable if we are talking about an all-loving God who doesn’t wish to tamper with creaturely freedom.

We mustn’t forget that God wills for no one to perish (Ezekiel 33:11); He wants all to turn and live. Whether we do or not, isn’t up to God; He’s left it up to us.

We mustn’t forget that God loves the whole world (John 3:16), even though some will freely reject Him. Jesus affirmed this when He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chick under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).

We mustn’t forget that Christianity isn’t some fatalistically determined worldview like the self-refuting worldview of materialism and naturalism. We have something far better than that; our God is far greater than that! I’ve said it before, but this is also where the hyper-Calvinist goes wrong, I think. The mere fact that the Bible assumes that we have a choice ought to convince us that we do. Our freedom is obviously important to God because He made us that way; it should also be important to us.

Finally, we mustn’t forget that God has placed us in our specific circumstances for a reason–to reach out and find Him–we are without excuse. The Bible tells us, “From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:26-27). For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Romans 1:20).”