Are We Predestined to Fight over the Doctrine of Predestination?

Josh Buice

In many evangelical circles, if you bring up the subject of predestination you can guarantee one of two things — confused looks or passionate fights.  Are we predestined to fight over the doctrine of predestination?  Throughout history, we have witnessed heated disagreements over predestination and election.  In the mid 1700s, George Whitefield and John Wesley had an open disagreement in published works.  Although many Reformed Baptists were involved in the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, today’s SBC is largely divided over the subject of predestination. Exactly what does the Bible teach about this subject?  Should we use the biblical doctrine of predestination as an expletive?  Should we divide over our differences?

Is Predestination in the Bible?

I remember a lady entered the church sanctuary of the church where I served in Kentucky years ago prior to a church service on Sunday, and she said these words, “Preacher, I’m visiting your church because the pastor where I’m a member has been preaching on predestination!”  She looked even more shocked when I responded, “Did you know that the word predestination is actually in the Bible in several different places?”  I never saw her again.  I hope she went back to her church and sought to learn and grow in grace.

The word (προορίζω) often translated “predestined” appears in the Bible in at least five different places.  The word is a compound word composed of two parts:

  • Preposition (πρό) Pro – Before
  • Verb (ὁρίζωhorizō – To mark out, appoint, decree.
  1. Acts 4:28 – to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
  2. Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
  3. Romans 8:30 – And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
  4. 1 Corinthians 2:7 – But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
  5. Ephesians 1:5 – he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.
  6. Ephesians 1:11 – In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

How is Predestination Used in the Bible?

Anytime we come to study a biblical doctrine, it’s essential to examine the word(s) within a proper contextual framework.  Defining terms is essential and necessary when studying the Bible.  Yes, there are various different definitions for the word predestination.  Even a brief study of this doctrine will reveal that all throughout history, when the spark of predestination hits the gasoline of human opinion — it results in a dangerous explosion.  From historic fights to modern divisions, people seem poised to split, fight, and divide over this biblical doctrine.

It should be pointed out that in the teachings of Paul in the New Testament, he writes to the believers in various cities like Ephesus and seeks to encourage them regarding their position in Jesus Christ.  In order to encourage them in the faith, Paul bursts out in a doxology to God in the early words of his letter to the Ephesian church and he uses the term predestination two different times. Consider Paul’s one extraordinary sentence in the Greek (Eph. 1:3-14) that he uses to praise God for saving sinners and he references the doctrine of predestination as a springboard to dive into the deep waters of God’s sovereign grace.

In our modern church era, we organize debates on the subject of predestination.  We gather ourselves in holy huddles and divide over the biblical doctrine of predestination.  We write entire books on the subject and wax eloquent in commentaries on the doctrine of predestination.  However, Paul used it as a way to praise God for His work of salvation.  What would happen if we spent more time praising God and less time throwing rocks at other believers over predestination?

Humility is Necessary When Studying the Bible

When I moved away to attend seminary, I remember suffering from a prideful attitude regarding the doctrine of predestination.  If this biblical doctrine was the tiger, in my mind, I had it by the tail.  Being brought to a place of admitting that I was wrong about the subject of predestination was not a pleasant experience.  For me, I was extremely stubborn and it took many years of fighting and wrestling through the subject before I finally admitted my errors.

When considering the subject of predestination or any other doctrine in the Bible, we must approach it with a humble heart.  We must be willing to submit to the teachings of Scripture – no matter what any personality, preacher, or commentary says.  If the Bible teaches something, we should never be embarrassed about it.  That goes for the folly of the blood splattered cross and the difficult doctrine of predestination.  James Montgomery Boice writes:

When people have trouble with election—and many do—their real problem is not with the doctrine of election, although they think it is, but with the doctrine of depravity that makes election necessary. [1]

Before arguing over the topic of predestination, consider praising God for His work of predestination and the saving of your soul.  Charles Spurgeon once said:

That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. [2]

  1. James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 16.
  2. Charles Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism.”
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Author Are We Predestined to Fight over the Doctrine of Predestination?

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.