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Everyone Believes This Doctrine

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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March 1, 2023 12:01 am

Everyone Believes This Doctrine

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 1, 2023 12:01 am

Since "predestination" is a biblical word, every student of Scripture must seek to understand what the Bible means by this term. Today, R.C. Sproul discusses the controversial yet important subject of election. Beginning today, you'll also hear a familiar voice introducing each day's teaching. Please welcome Nathan W. Bingham as the new host of Renewing Your Mind.

Get R.C. Sproul's 'Chosen by God' Teaching Series on DVD with the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/2636/chosen-by-god

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Now, when we're talking about the doctrine of predestination, we are not talking specifically about questions of whether or not you were determined in advance to be sitting in the chair in which you are sitting right now. The doctrine of predestination is concerned specifically with the question of our ultimate destination. Whether it's over a cup of coffee or after church, if two Christians are having a rather heated conversation, it's probably a short list of topics they might be discussing, and maybe coming to the top would be that of predestination. Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham, and I'm grateful for this new opportunity to be with you each day hosting Renewing Your Mind. So why is it that the topic of predestination can sometimes evoke an emotional response?

Well, I think it's because at the end of the day, we realize that when we speak about God's sovereignty in salvation, we're also talking about the souls of people we love, family members and friends. Have you wrestled with this before? I know I have. Perhaps after your studies, you've concluded, I don't even believe in predestination. Well, today, Dr. Sproul will argue that every Christian believes in predestination. Not convinced?

Here's Dr. Sproul. It's been 14 years since we founded this ministry of Ligonier involved in adult education, and I have studiously avoided as much as possible having a whole seminar devoted to the study of predestination for fear that such a seminar might possibly end in bloodshed. But now, after I've exhausted everything else that I know, and we had to have a seminar on something, we decided to do a seminar involving six lectures in this question of predestination. And I'm sure you're all aware of the fact that it's a maxim in the United States, a law of our national heritage that we never discuss religion and politics. But any time two Americans sit down and have a discussion, it inevitably leads to matters of religion and politics. And any time that there's a discussion on religion, sooner or later, and most often it's sooner, the discussion focuses on some element of the doctrine of predestination. It's one of those things that mystifies us, and at the same time it stimulates our minds and the bewilderment that we experience in the face of the concept of predestination.

Sometimes we'll encourage us to dig more deeply into theology, and it's just one of those subjects that generates a lot of interest and discussion and also controversy. And as I look at the history of Christian scholarship, we see that every great Christian teacher, every theologian that the church has ever produced at some point or another has had to address this question of predestination. And though there's wide divergence of interpreting the doctrine of predestination, there's one thing that we can find that every theologian I've ever examined agrees on, and that is that this doctrine must be treated with great caution.

It's a dangerous subject because the more we study it, the tendency it has to raise more questions than it answers. And I'm convinced that of all of the doctrines that we struggle with in Christendom, there's none that is more shrouded in misunderstanding and confusion than the doctrine of predestination. So that in itself calls for a certain kind of sober caution as we approach this subject. And I would add to the theologian's warning of caution that I think it's also a doctrine that requires an extra measure of charity as we struggle with it, and that we need to be patient with each other and with those who differ from us in our views of this particular question. Because I said there's a lot at stake here, and feelings can run very high and very high when we discuss the matter of predestination, and we ought to be careful to manifest the fruit of God's Holy Spirit among ourselves as we try to deal with it. Now I've said all of that knowing it won't work, because once we plunge into this doctrine, who knows what's going to happen. Let me just say at the beginning, by way of introduction, I also ought to say this, that we're going to spend six periods of lecture on the subject, and that may seem like an awful lot of time devoted to one doctrine like predestination.

But let me assure you at the outset that six lectures of approximately half an hour, each one, can't possibly do anything but skate over the surface of this. There are so many related questions that are provoked by any study of predestination that this, I'm convinced, requires in-depth study that will take years and years and years before we can ever hope to get to the bottom of it. And so I'm looking at this course as an introduction to the doctrine of predestination. Now I keep saying the doctrine of predestination as if there were only one doctrine of predestination, or if there even were such a thing as a viable doctrine of predestination. There are those who look at the question of predestination and state it in categories like this.

They'll say to you, a discussion between Christians would be, do you believe in predestination? And some people will answer that question either by saying, yes, I believe in predestination, or they will say, no, I don't believe in predestination, as if everybody understood what we were talking about when we talked about the doctrine of predestination. It may come as a surprise to some of you that every church that I know of historically, every denomination that I'm aware of historically that has formulated a doctrinal statement of sorts has formulated some doctrine of predestination. There is a Roman Catholic doctrine of predestination, there is a Lutheran doctrine of predestination, there's a Presbyterian doctrine of predestination, there's a Methodist doctrine of predestination, and so on. So we need to get that clear at the beginning that there are many, many different doctrines of predestination. So there's no such thing as the doctrine of predestination, although I suspect that when people boil it down to one, usually what they have in mind is what doctrine of predestination? The Presbyterian variety of the matter, or that one, which is usually called the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination because John Calvin and predestination seem to be almost synonyms in the culture as if the first theologian in history ever to speak of predestination was John Calvin, but we will see in a brief historical survey that that's certainly not the case. But what we're interested in in this study is to look and try to discern the biblical doctrine of predestination. The reason why so many different denominations and different churches have doctrines of predestination is because the Bible speaks about predestination, and all Christians who take the Bible seriously are therefore led to taking the concept of predestination seriously because it's a concept and a word that we find in the New Testament. Let's just take a moment and let me read a couple of passages to refresh your memory that introduce this idea of predestination to us.

I'm reading now from the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians where Paul in his opening greeting says, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will. And then if we move on down the page in the first chapter of Ephesians, verse 11, also we have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. Now this of course is not the only place in the Bible that we encounter this concept of predestination, but I just read that passage so that everybody will see that the word predestination is a biblical word. And because it's a biblical word, all of those who have been diligent students of the Bible have tried to understand what the Bible means by divine predestination.

Before we explore that closely, let me give a little bit more historical background. There are many, many, many, many different theologies to be found in the history of the Christian church, just as there are many denominations that we've already noted. But I think it's safe to say that there are thousands of people who have been predestined, but I think it's safe to say that there are three basic generic types of theology historically, and theologians speak of them in these general categories.

The first is what we call Pelagianism, the second is what we call Semipalagianism, and the third is what we call Augustinianism. Now the reason for this three-fold designation of basic types of theology has its roots in the fourth century when the church underwent a titanic struggle over many serious issues of theology. And the one man who was recognized and usually acclaimed as the greatest theologian at least of the first thousand years of Christian history, if not the greatest theologian of all Christian history, who defended the faith at that period, was of course Saint Augustine. And his chief opponent in several debates at that period of Christian history was a monk by the name of Pelagius. And one of the critical things about which they debated was how important or necessary was the grace of God for human salvation. Pelagius was of the opinion that the grace of God assists human beings to be saved, but is in no way necessary.

His fundamental assumption was that man in his natural state has within himself the capacity to keep the commandments of God to such a degree as to be redeemed without any help from divine grace. Augustine stressed the absolute dependence of the fallen sinner upon the grace of God for that sinner's salvation and really repudiated Pelagianism as an early form of sheer humanism. And Pelagianism was seen not merely as a subdivision of Christian thought, but really as sub-Christian in its thought, that is, not even worthy of being considered Christian. Now when I say there are three basic trains of thought that have come down through the church historically, I agree with this setup here.

I didn't invent this designation, but I agree with it. These are the three major generic types of theology that have influenced church history, and I see Pelagianism as the father of liberalism, Socinianism that came in the 16th century, liberalism in the 19th century, and so that you'll know where I'm coming from. I would consider Pelagianism as un-Christian, fundamentally anti-Christian, not an option for a Christian thinker. Now the debates that have gone on within the church between semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism, which reflected later on in history between the Remonstrants in the 16th century and the Calvinists and so on and the Methodists, these I would regard as debates within the household of faith. The arguments between semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism, semi-Pelagianism says that man cannot be saved apart from the grace of God, but there is something man must do even in his still fallen state to cooperate with and assent to that grace of God before God will save him.

That is to say, he can't be saved apart from grace, but it is left for man in the final analysis to either cooperate with God's grace or reject God's grace, and that becomes the convincing point of whether or not a person is saved or not saved. Augustinianism says that man is so seriously fallen that he is totally dependent upon the grace of God, even for his initial response to the gospel, even for the very cooperating and assenting to the gospel of Christ in the first place. And so you can see at the outset that the debate has its roots in the question of man's ability to respond to the gospel in his fallen state. And I would say as we enter into any discussion of predestination that lurking always behind the scenes of discussions on predestination is this fundamental debate right here between the Semipelagians and the Augustinians. And I also need to warn you at the outset that I am persuaded of the Augustinian view of predestination, and I will be setting forth the Augustinian view of predestination in these seminars. I will be trying to explain it to clarify misunderstandings that I think abound concerning it, and I will try to respond to objections that are brought to it from Semipelagian brothers and sisters and try to convince you and persuade you that the Augustinian view is the Pauline view and consequently the biblical view and therefore the right one. But of course not everybody believes that.

Not everybody agrees with that. And I think again we have to be honest at the outset and recognize that some tremendously important Christian leaders who have had an enormous influence for good in the kingdom of God have not espoused the view that I will be setting forth in this seminar. Let me just draw the scorecard for you and try to be fair, broad-minded and all that, and I'm going to list on this side of the board the theologians in church history who on this question of predestination in my judgment would fall into the camp of the Augustinian view, and then to balance it off I'll try to mention the names of the theologians who fall on the other side. So we'll look first of all on the pro side of the pro-Augustinian view. Now remember we haven't really defined the Augustinian view.

This is still background. We'll get into what that view actually is. Those that follow Augustine in the doctrine of predestination would include, and this may surprise you, and this may even be challenged by some, but first let's put Augustine himself since he did believe what he himself taught. So we'll put Augustine at the top of the list. Then I would say Augustine's perhaps most eminent disciple with respect to theology in general and even these doctrines in particular. In my judgment the man belongs on this side of the column, St. Thomas Aquinas. Francis Schaeffer, I can almost hear him screaming at me from heaven right now because he would certainly not agree that Aquinas belongs in that category, but remember that Aquinas himself indicated his indebtedness to Augustine more than to any other theologian in church history. But since St. Thomas Aquinas is the supreme theologian of the Roman Catholic Church, and since contemporary Roman Catholic theology does not embrace the Augustinian view of predestination, Protestants generally make the assumption that therefore St. Thomas didn't either.

You can challenge that if you want. I will leave that open to debate and discussion. The next man, there's no debate. The next man definitely belongs with Augustine, and he is the reformer's reformer, the man who most emphasized predestination in the 16th century in the Reformation, and who was that? No, that wasn't John Calvin.

John Calvin was his junior partner. The man who most adamantly defended the Augustinian view of predestination was Martin Luther. Now that comes as a surprise because in the world today, Lutheranism lines up opposite Presbyterianism on this particular doctrine. That's because of a little quirk in church history where shortly after Luther's death, the Lutheran body under the leadership of Philip Melanchthon took a different turn and did not follow Martin Luther in his articulation of the view of predestination. But I think it's safe to say that Luther wrote more on predestination than Calvin ever dreamed of and that there's nothing in the doctrine of predestination that I can think of that John Calvin ever taught that Luther didn't teach first and louder. So then now we can stick Calvin in there as a junior partner, John Calvin, and then I would add to this side of the column Jonathan Edwards. Remember now, we're going to be honest and fair and above board about all this. Now if you would ask me this question, R.C., who do you think are the five greatest theologians that ever lived?

Okay. I would have no difficulty identifying the five greatest theologians that ever lived. They would be Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards.

And I tell you what, they're way ahead of the next five, whoever they may be. Now as biased as that may be, I think that it would be safe to say that if we asked any hundred theologians from any different denominations who the greatest ten theologians were in history, at least ninety-eight out of that hundred would mention these five in the ten. I mean here are recognizably five titans and giants of the Christian faith. And if they all agree on espousing the Augustinian view of predestination, does that mean that the Augustinian view of predestination is the correct one? Absolutely not, because these five men disagreed on many things, and though they agree on the essence of this particular matter, is no guarantee that their views individually or collectively are the first. We carry no brief for the infallibility of human tradition or for the infallibility of Augustine, Aquinas, you know, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, none of that, or even all of them together. But I'll say this, when those five agree on something, it gets my attention.

Okay. And I labor this point for this reason, that so often the so-called Reformed view of predestination is lightly dismissed as a uniquely Calvinistic aberration in church history. And that's just historically untrue. Now let's look at the other side and see the great theologians that have fallen on the other side. Well, there's Pelagius, Erasmus, there was Finney, there was Wesley, and there was Arminius, which are some important names in church history. Now, I can hear somebody right now who's not persuaded of the Augustinian position, screaming bloody murder in protest already, saying that's not fair to put those five up against those five. So I'm ready to write somebody else's name in there if you want to give me some great theologians that took the other position. Keep in mind, too, that the overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians in the world today are on this side.

Okay. This is a minority report in the contemporary scene. The thing that's striking to me about this side is that in terms of the sheer power of biblical scholarship, you don't find the titans over here.

You find them here. But maybe if we looked at the contemporary scene, it'd be a little different. If I said pro-Augustinian view of predestination today, we would include Francis Schaeffer and Gordon Clark and Cornelius Mantel and all these Presbyterian theologians as well as some Anglican and Episcopalian people like J. I. Packer and Roger Nicole and people like that, Roger Nicole being Baptist, of course. On the other side, those who do not believe in the Augustinian view would have such people as Clark Penick, John Warwick Montgomery, Norman Geisler from Dallas Theological Seminary. These are some very formidable leaders in the contemporary evangelical world, Billy Graham, though not a theologian, nevertheless is a very important Christian leader who would fall on the non-Augustinian side, though I trust his wife Ruth would be in the right column. But in any case, all I'm trying to show here is that Christians are divided, and if you are opposed to the Augustinian view of predestination, in light of the fact of those teachers of the church who have espoused it, I think we need to look at it very seriously before we dismiss it out of hand.

I think they command enough respect that we should listen to what they have tried to teach the church on this point. Alright, let's take a few minutes then to do some basic definitions. The word predestination in English is made up of a prefix and a root. The prefix pre- means before, and the word destination is a word we're all familiar with in the English language. Many of you came to Ligonier this week because Ligonier was your destination. It was the place to which you were going.

Any time you make travel reservations with your travel agent the thing they want to know is what is your destination, that is where are you headed, where do you hope to end up. Now when we're talking about the doctrine of predestination we are not talking specifically about questions of whether or not God directly caused an automobile accident to take place, or if you were determined in advance to be sitting in the chair in which you are sitting right now. The doctrine of predestination is concerned specifically with the question of our ultimate destination.

There are only two destinations open to us as human beings. Ultimately they are heaven or hell, that is to be in a state of salvation or to be in a state of damnation. And predestination proper is concerned not with those daily questions of, you know, whether or not I dropped this chalk on the floor if that was predestined. That would fall under the theological heading of providence.

And those questions are legitimate questions for theology, how much God's sovereignty is involved in our everyday actions and activities and so on. But the doctrine of predestination proper is concerned about the question of salvation. And predestination is concerned about something that takes place before we arrive at that destination. Predestination has to do with God's involvement in the ultimate outcome of our lives. Now this may strike you as strange, but both Augustinians and semi-Pelagians agree that predestination is something that God does. Predestination has to do with God's choice regarding salvation, God's choice regarding the salvation of people. And this may also surprise you that both sides agree that God makes that choice about our ultimate destination before we are even born. Indeed, at the foundation of the world as we just read in Ephesians that God chose certain people before the foundation of the world.

Now that may surprise you. John Wesley believed that. Philip Melanchthon believed that.

I meant to put Philip Melanchthon on that list a moment ago too, but I didn't. But in any case, where the point of division is, is at this critical juncture. On what basis does God choose to save you before the foundation of the world? Is God's choice to save you based upon His prior knowledge of something that He looks down the quarters of time and sees that you are going to do? And therefore, looking down the quarters of time, He knows for example that you're going to respond positively to the gospel, that you're going to choose Christ when the opportunity avails itself to you. And knowing that you are going to choose Christ, God then chooses you to be saved. But He bases that choice on His prior knowledge of Dick's decision.

Is that clear? So that God is choosing you for salvation, but He's choosing you because of something He foresees in your life. The Augustinian view on the contrary would say that what God foresees in your life has nothing whatsoever to do with His choice of you, that His choice is surely by the good pleasure of His will without any view to anything you may or may not do in the future. That's basically the heart of the issue of whether or not the choice is with a view to what you do or without a view to what you do or what you will do with respect to the proclamation of the gospel.

Now there are other things that we all hold in common and then as we agree at certain points then the divergences come. And the first thing that every Christian agrees on is that the God that we worship is a sovereign God. How sovereignty works itself out in matters of salvation is what divides us. And so in our next session we're going to look at the concept of the sovereignty of God.

And we'll discuss that tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. So every Christian believes in predestination. It's just a question of whether our view is biblical or not.

That's why we need to handle this topic with care as well as with grace and charity. As I was wrestling through this subject of God's sovereignty and how it relates to man's responsibility, it was Dr. Sproul's teaching that was so clarifying for me, helping me to understand what the Bible teaches on this important subject. It's why I'm so pleased that this week we're making his complete series, Chosen by God, available to you for your donation of any amount. It's six messages in full on two DVDs. And when you give your gift, not only will we send you this DVD package, but you'll have digital access to the messages as well as to the digital study guide. So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343. The series we're making available is chosen by God, and it can be yours for your donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. As a Christian, you may refer to yourself as a Baptist, perhaps a Presbyterian, or even simply as a believer. But would you refer to yourself as an atheist? Well tomorrow, Dr. Sproul will argue, if you deny the absolute sovereignty of God, then you're denying God himself. So join us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-01 06:01:19 / 2023-03-01 06:11:54 / 11

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