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How Does God Render Things Certain But Not Necessary?

Here is a Summary of pages 356-357 From Christian theology by Millard Erickson, my Systematic Theology professor at SWBTS (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary).  While I affirmed biblical theology and the Doctrines of Grace before Seminary, he taught us that to keep the tension in Scripture and affirm the whole counsel of God’s Word and thus affirming the sufficiency of God’s Word.  He showed us how Christian humanism was hurting the church today and that we must not allow mysticism, rationalism, evidentualism, etc. to become primary prism which we demand scripture to pass through in order to understanding.  The principles of Sola (not solo) Scriptura was championed which affirms that scripture is not subject to any philosophical system but must be read and affirmed even in the antinomies (mysteries and paradoxes) it affirms, and thus confront and transform our philosophical thinking into a Christian world and life view.  He says about Sovereignty and our freedom:

Despite the difficulties in relating divine sovereignty to human freedom, we nonetheless come to the conclusion on biblical grounds that the plan of God is unconditional rather than conditional upon man’s choice.  There is simply is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God chooses humans because of what they are going to do on their own.  The Arminian concept of foreknowledge (προ’γνωσις), appealing through it is, not born out by scripture.  The word means more than simply having advance knowledge or precognition of what is to come.  .  It appears to have in its background the Hebrew concept ‘yada, which often mean more than simple awareness.  It suggested a kind of intimate knowledge – it was even used of sexual intercourse.  When Paul says that God foreknew the people of Israel, he is not referring to merely to an advance knowledge with God had.  Indeed, it is clear that God’s choice of Israel was not upon the basis of advance knowledge of a favorable response on their part….

At this point we must raise the question of whether God can create genuinely free beings and yet render certain all things that are to come to pass, including the free decisions and actions of those beings.  The key to unlocking the problem is the distinction between rendering something certain and rendering it necessary.  The former is a matter of God’s decision that something will happen; the latter is a matter of his decreeing that it must occur.  In the former case, the human being will not act in a way contrary to the course of action which god has chosen; in the later case, the human being cannot act in a way contrary to what God has chosen.  What we are saying is that God renders it certain that a person who would who could act (or could have acted) different, in fact act in a particular way (the way that God wills) (compatibilistic Freedom).

What does it mean to say that I am free?  It means that I am not under constraint.  Thus, I am free to do whatever pleases me.  But am I free with respect to what pleases me and what does not?  To put it differently, I may chose one action over another because it holds more appeal for me.  But I am not fully in control of the appeal which each of those actions holds for me.  That is a quite different matter.  I make all my decisions, but those decisions are in large measure influenced by certain characteristic of mine which I am not capable of altering by my own choice.  If for example, I am offered for dinner a choice between liver and stake, I am quite free to take the liver, but I do not desire to do so.  I have no conscious control over my dislike of liver.  That is a given that goes with my being the person I am.  In that respect my freedom is limited.  I do not know whether it is my genes or environment conditioning or my nature, but it is apparent that I cannot by force of will alter this characteristic of mine.

There are, then limitations upon who I am and what I desire and will.  I certainly did not choose the genes that I have; I did not select my parents nor the exact geographical location and cultural setting of my birth.  My freedom, therefore, is within these limitations.  And here arises the question: Who set up these factors?  The theistic answer is, “God did.”

I am free to choose among various options, but my choice will be influenced by who I am.  Therefore, my freedom must be understood as my ability to choose among options in light of who I am.  And who I am is a result of God’s decision and activity…


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