[This post is part of the Philosophy 101 series]
As I write this, it’s hard to say whether we can cover the other points in one blog, or whether there might be a part C. I decided it sounded cooler to have an “A” and “B” rather than “part 1” and “part 2.” Maybe because it recalls an A side and a B side, I don’t really know. The real take-a-way here is that it is totally irrelevant. Glad we settled that. On to something of value. Hopefully.
This last three points are all closely related, and all more or less directly relate to God’s divine providence. The points were drawn from Van Til’s work and looking at them now, they could really be simplified to 2 points which are:
- The fact of temporal creation as the origin of all the facts of the universe
- The plan or counsel of this God pertaining to created reality and providentially ordering it.
We’ll spend the majority of our attention on the 2nd point as that is probably the more properly metaphysical concern, as well as the area of the most controversy, but in the spirit of thoroughness, let’s not neglect the first.
Temporal creation as the origin of all facts in the universe
This first one is a rather significant epistemological concern, but at this point (as you might surmise from the title) it is not our immediate concern to unpack what all those facts might be, but merely to establish the entire body of knowledge (known and unknown to humanity) was created by God and therefore known comprehensibly by Him and Him alone. In other words, there is mystery for man, but not for God. Man cannot actually comprehensively know anything at all (not he cannot know anything, he just cannot know anything comprehensively), but again, we’ll come back to that later. The take-a-way on the first point then is really just that knowledge is a created thing, and was created by God. Our only concern here is to say that God knows everything that can be possibly known and therefore it is God who determines the possible. There is not a bare looming set of possible things that is not intimately known by God and also controlled by Him. Which brings us to our next point, which is where the bulk of the time will be spent.
The counsel of God
This point will probably take some measure of sub-points. What we are more or less unpacking is this passage in Ephesians:
7 Ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν παραπτωμάτων, κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ 8 ἧς ἐπερίσσευσεν εἰς ἡμᾶς, ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ φρονήσει, 9 γνωρίσας ἡμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ ἣν προέθετο ἐν αὐτῷ 10 εἰς οἰκονομίαν τοῦ πληρώματος τῶν καιρῶν, ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἐπὶ τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐν αὐτῷ. 11 Ἐν ᾧ καὶ ἐκληρώθημεν προορισθέντες κατὰ πρόθεσιν τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐνεργοῦντος κατὰ τὴν βουλὴν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ 12 εἰς τὸ εἶναι ἡμᾶς εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης αὐτοῦ τοὺς προηλπικότας ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ.
That’s probably a mean trick, but if you know the Greek it might prove helpful here in a few minutes. For everyone else, here’s the English:
7qIn him we have rredemption sthrough his blood, tthe forgiveness of our trespasses, uaccording to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9vmaking known3 to us the mystery of his will, naccording to his purpose, which he wset forth in Christ 10 as a plan for xthe fullness of time, yto unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained zan inheritance, ahaving been predestined baccording to the purpose of him who works all things according to cthe counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be dto the praise of his glory.
q Col. 1:14 r Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; [ch. 4:30] s See Acts 20:28 t See Acts 2:38 u [ch. 3:8, 16; Col. 1:27]; See Rom. 2:4 v See Rom. 16:25 3 Or he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known … n [See ver. 5 above] w [ver. 11; Rom. 8:28; 9:11] x See Mark 1:15 y Col. 1:16, 20; [ch. 3:15; Phil. 2:9, 10] z Deut. 4:20; 32:9; See ver. 14 a ver. 5 b ch. 3:11; [Rev. 4:11]; See Rom. 8:28 c [Acts 20:27] d ver. 6, 14; [Phil. 1:11]
Don’t you just love it when I copy/paste from Logos and you get all the cross references for your perusing pleasure? I bet. Anyway, we’re mainly concerned with verse 9 and following, but context is always nice to give you a running start. We discussed this in class the other day, and it is a passage that drips with God’s sovereignty, mainly in terms of our ultimate redemption (as context clues you in). However what you can see in the above passage is that our ultimate redemption is within the context of God’s plan or counsel pertaining to all created reality.
The points in question might be summarized as follows:
- The divine purpose is revealed in Christ and involves a plan to eventually unite all things in Him (one might say there is an explicitly defined eschatological purpose to all of history).
- God works all things according to the counsel of His will, our salvation being a subset of what all things pertains to.
For a lot of the soteriological debates between Calvinists and Arminians there is a tendency to quibble over just what the word “predestine” means in v.11a (Grk: προορισθέντες, and yes the Rho’s makes it look like a word with “poop” in the middle of it, but it’s pronounced with an “r” sound). This is rather pointless (the word means “decide beforehand”) because the point of the entire passage is that God works everything according to the counsel of His will and in light of that Paul makes his soteriological points (namely our security in redemption and God’s ultimate glory in the process).
The NET Bible renders v.11b as “since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” What we are really exploring here is the nature of the above statement, what the implications of such an assertion would be and in a separate post we may make some practical implications since we’re already pushing 1000 words. I tell you what though, let’s try and keep these three (at least) blogs shorter than usual, since the subject matter is getting denser.
So, what we have here is B.1 and there will follow a B.2 in a couple days or so that will begin unpacking the implications from our Ephesians passage. We will start with the nature of God’s providence, as the “all things” seems rather explicit, but we’ll discuss nonetheless. And then we’ll round out the discussion by looking at the extent of God’s providential orderings of created reality. Should be fun for all involved. Who knows, there may even be an application section in a later blog, because after all, for on thing, the way that you pray should depend on your view of divine sovereignty. As an example, generally speaking, Arminians should not pray for anyone’s salvation because the God they pray to doesn’t possess a sovereignty that extends to people’s choices. The option then in the nature of consistency is to either change your prayer life, or change your theology, but since we serve a thoroughly consistent God, we should strive for consistency between our theology and our lifestyle and actions (read: we should be righteous like God is). Too often though, we fail to live up to our own theological convictions. But that’s where grace comes in. And God knows I could use an extra helping or too. Until I finish research for the next sub-point…