THE WORK OF GOD
By: Daniel L. Segraves
Is the history of the universe and of the activities of the human race the mere story of events which have occurred purely by chance? What is God’s role, if any, in creation and the continuing existence of the universe? If God did have a hand in creation and continues to be actively interested in the affairs of the human race, does that interest extend to the ordering of future events, including the matter of who will be saved and who will be lost?
The Most common word which has been used by Christians historically to describe God’s involvement in these matters is “decree.” Erickson has recently, however, suggested the word “plan.” The idea is God’s sovereign planning of all future events before He began the work of creation.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives the classic definition: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines God’s decree as “a theological term for the comprehensive plan for the world and its history which God sovereignly established in eternity.”
While all who accept the Scripture as the authoritative Word of God would agree that God created all things, there are various opinions as to exactly how the creation was accomplished. These opinions result largely from attempts to reconcile the apparent age of the earth with scriptural data. They are: (1) the gap theory; (2) the flood theory; (3) the ideal-time theory; (4) the age-day theory; and (5) the pictorial-day theory.
The Gap Theory. This theory, popularized by the Scofield Bible, sees the original creation of Genesis 1:1 as occurring somewhere in the dateless past, perhaps even billions of years ago. Genesis 1:2 is seen as providing a bridge to more recent history. It is suggested that God did not originally create the earth without form and void, but that the earth became formless and empty as the result of a great catastrophe. The catastrophe is often suggested to be the fall of Satan. Then after remaining in this formless and empty state for an undetermined period of time, God began the work of recreating or rehabilitating His original
The Flood Theory. This theory sees the original creation as occurring in the fairly recent past. It sees no gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3, and it accounts for the geologic record by the tremendous effect of the world wide flood of Noah.
The Ideal-Time Theory. This theory attributes the apparent age of the universe to the creation of all things, including human beings, with apparent (ideal) age. Adam and Eve were created as fully grown human
beings. The same would have been true of the entire animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.
The Age-Day Theory. This view suggests that the days of creation were not literal 24 hour days, but undetermined periods of time during which God created in a series of acts.
The Pictorial-Day Theory. This theory sees the creative days as simply providing a logical structure, rather than a chronological one, for God’s creative work. It suggests that God may have revealed His creative work to Moses in a series of six pictures, or Moses may have arranged the material in a logical way. The theory allows for creation over an undetermined period of time.
Concerning providence, or God’s continuing involvement in His creation, the views suggested have included pantheism, panentheism, deism, and biblical theism. Pantheism equates god with nature, i.e. all is god. It is therefore legitimate to pray to rocks, trees, or any element in creation. Panentheism sees god as in all of nature, i.e. the rock is not god, but god is in the rock. Deism sees god as the creator who made all things, but who then abandoned his creation to operate by natural law, i.e. god is not actively involved in the day-to-day affairs of his creation. Biblical theism sees God not only as the personal creator, but as continuing to be personally involved, moment by moment, in the sustaining and preserving of His creation. (Ne. 9:6; Col. 1:17; He 1:3).
Calvinism and Arminianism
In Protestantism, John Calvin and James Arminius brought two major influences to bear as it relates to the anthropological and soteriological aspects of God’s decree. Within each school of thought various adaptations have been suggested by disciples of both Calvinism and Arminianism.
Calvinism. Calvinism defines the decrees of God as follows: (1) Decree to create all men; (2) Decree to permit the Fall; (3) Decree to elect some out of the fallen multitude and leave others in their misery; (4) Decree to provide salvation for the elect; (5) Decree to save the elect through Christ.
One of the five points of Calvinism is that of limited atonement. That is, the atonement provided only for those who were included in the unconditional election previously decreed by God. The sublapsarianism of
Calvinism sees the decree to elect as below the decree to permit the Fall.
Hyper-Calvinism suggests a supralapsarian view which places the decree to elect above the decree to permit the Fall.
The unlimited atonement-limited redemption view (infra-lapsarianism) places the decree to elect farther below the decree to permit the Fall. The atonement is seen as sufficient to provide salvation for all, but only some are elected to redemption.
Arminianism. Arminianism views Christian doctrine much as did the pre-Augustinian fathers. John Wesley is an example of a more recent Arminian whose influence on Protestantism has been significant.
While Arminius did not offer a formal scheme concerning the decree of God, it could be summed up as follows: (1) Decree to create all men; (2) Decree to permit the Fall; (3) Decree to provide salvation sufficient for all; (4) Decree to count as worelect those who through foreseen faith will believe in Christ (Cook, Theological Foundations, p. 229).
It will be noted that Calvinism and Arminianism agree on the first two aspects of God’s decree (i.e. the decree to create all men and the decree to permit the Fall). The difference between the two views arises upon a consideration of anthropology, soteriology and the grace of God. That is, Calvinism sees the decree of God as including the predestination of some to be saved and others to be lost. Calvinism seeks to preserve man’s free will, however, by having God so design each person genetically and environmentally that he will freely choose as God has decreed.
Arminianism agrees with Calvinism that the Fall corrupted man’s will. But while Calvinism sees the salvific grace of God being extended only to those who were elected from eternity, Arminianism sees each human being as the recipient of prevenient grace by which he would be at least theoretically able to come to Christ for salvation.
Contrary to Calvinism, Arminianism sees believers as able to lose their salvation.
The essential argument Arminius had with Calvinism was Arminius’ view that the unconditional predestination of Calvinism made God “the author of sin.”
Scripture declares that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11). Before God began His creative work, He foreknew all that would come to pass in human history and He predestined specific events (e.g. the incarnation [Jn 17:24] and crucifixion of Jesus [Rev 13:8; I Pe 1:18-20]), actions (e.g. the betrayal of Jesus [Ps 41:9; 69:25; 109:8]), and institutions (e,g. the church [Eph 1:4]).
The decree of God or His fore-ordained plan, would have by definition included the creation itself and His arrangement for its perpetuation. It is clear from the above verses that the decision to make man, to allow the Fall, and to provide for man’s redemption was also included in God’s original decree.
In opposition to the pantheistic, panentheistic and deistic models, Scripture declares that God personally created all things (Ge 1:1; He 1:10; 11:3; Mk 13:19), that there is a permanent distinction between the Creator and the created (Ro 1:25), and that the Creator retains a personal, moment by moment involvement in sustaining and preserving His creation (Ne 9:6; Col 1:17; He 1:3; Mt 5:45; 6:25-34; Ps 104:5-30; 135:5- 7; Dan 2:21; Pro 16:33).
While we may not be able to dogmatically say which, if any, of the creation models best fits the facts, it is my opinion that the ideal-time theory comes closest. While Erickson says the “ideal-time theory is ingenious and in many ways irrefutable both scientifically and exegetically” he suggests that it “presents the theological problem that it makes God an apparent deceiver.” But this would be true only if God declared that His creation was a certain age and it was not. “If the authority of biblical revelation is ignored and men then reach false conclusions, completely apart from God’s intentions, God cannot be blamed or faulted” (Cook, Theological Foundations, p. 272).
Calvinism interprets the scriptural data as indicating that God is the ultimate cause of evil (Is 45:5-7). Milder Calvinism would say that God is the cause of evil only in the secondary sense, but a staunch Calvinist like Gordon H. Clark is willing to say, “I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do it… Let it be unequivocally said that this view certainly makes God the cause of sin” (Erickson, Christian Theology, pp. 417-418).
It would seem, however, that iniquity (sin; evil) finds its origin in Satan (Eze 28:15). God is the giver of every good and perfect gift; He is the Father of lights, and His nature never changes (Ja 1:17). To steal, to
kill, and to destroy are Satan’s works, not God’s (Jn 10:10). God gives life.
Without free will, man would not be man as we know him. He would be a puppet. No matter how long the string (how far back in the dateless past his actions were determined for him), he would still be a puppet. Even Erickson says, “Man would not be man if he did not have free will” (p. 423) and “For man to be genuinely free, there has to be an option. The choice is to obey or to disobey God” (p. 429).
If sin and evil exists, and if God is the Creator of all that exists, how is it possible to escape the implication that God is the author of sin, no matter how far He is removed from it? Since God’s ways are not our ways,
nor His thoughts our thoughts, and since there is nothing to which we can compare Him, our best efforts on either side of this issue will be incomplete. But if there is nothing too hard for God, it is at least possible for Him to create angels and people who could exercise their free will in rebellion against Him, without God being the cause of the rebellion. In other words, God would be the cause of sin only if He forced an angel or a human being to sin, no matter how remote His control was. Since God cannot be tempted with evil, and neither does He tempt any man, God cannot be said to be the author of sin (James 1:13).
An illustration from the realm of human relationships may help, although any human comparison to God is flawed. Just because a man gives his son the keys to his car, the father cannot be blamed for an accident the son may have through unwise use of the vehicle. The father could be blamed only if he did something to force the accident to happen. The son could just as easily have driven wisely as unwisely.
It is one thing to say that God gave man the opportunity to sin; it is another to say that God is responsible for sin. If God had not given man the opportunity to sin, man would be a puppet. If God had not given man the opportunity not to sin, man would be a puppet.
The predestination of Calvinism seems to hinge on the legitimate desire to protect the sovereignty of the will of God. Since it does not wish to see the will of God as ever being frustrated, it finds it necessary to see man as predestinated to be lost or saved, even before man’s conception. But in doing this it also finds it necessary to see God as having two different wills: a will that is actually only a “wish” and a will upon which He acts (Erickson, p. 361). This suggests a double-mindedness in God. There seems to be no legitimate way God’s “wish” could be genuine, if He says, “I wish it were this way, but I will make it that way.” Would not Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem’s failure to come to Him have been hypocritical if God had predestined their rejection (Mt 23:37)? Jesus said, “How often would I have gathered thy children together… and ye would not!” Could Jesus’ sincerely say, “I would have” if there were no possibility the inhabitants of Jerusalem could have responded?
If one understands predestination as it relates to salvation to work in conjunction with God’s foreknowledge, as did Arminius, it would seem that God’s integrity, holiness, and sovereignty are preserved.
Before the foundation of the world, in eternity, God decreed the creation of the heavens and the earth, his continuing Providence for the sustaining of his free will which allowed him to choose to obey or disobey God, and the means for man’s redemption which was made necessary by disobedience. This redemption through Christ’s atonement was sufficient to provide potentially, for all men (II Cor 5:14, 15; Titus 2:11; 1 Jn 2:2). It was efficacious, however, only for those who would, by the exercise of their free will, appropriate its provisions. The only way fallen man could respond positively to Jesus’ invitation to “Come unto me” was by the influence of the prevenient grace of God, which gives both the desire and the ability to accept the Lord’s invitation (Phil. 2:13).
The decree of God in eternity included specific events which would occur in history, specific actions of individuals related to those events, and the establishment of specific institutions.
(The above material appeared in the Spring 1992 issue of First Love.)
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