Doctrine, the Bible and Time

Wassily Kandinsky Black and Violet 150x150 Doctrine, the Bible and TimeI. Time and the Bible

The Bible throughout is written with a human regard to time except for prophecy and a few mentions of future plan. This is not applying an attribute to God. This is saying how the writers of the Bible relate to God with regard to time.

Calvinism takes a very different approach. God, being all knowledgeable, knows all past, present and future perfectly. Call it the omni view. Then Calvinism takes this attribute and applies it to every verse of the entire Bible.

The apostles and writers of the Bible are speaking past the Calvinists. They write with a human regard to time. The Calvinist reads with an omni view of time. And neither the twain shall meet.

Jeremiah 18:8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.

A straight read with a human eye on time, and this verse is a snap. But when you apply a Calvinist view of God’s time, it becomes a mess. No true conditional statement is then being offered. God knows the result even before he makes the statement. There is no true ‘if’. Since which choice the nation will make for the condition provided is already known by God, whether God will or will not bring calamity is known to Him already as well. So while the alternatives provided by God in the statement may persuade the nation to alter behavior, putting the statement in the form of a possibility makes the statement absurd for Calvinism.

In the Calvinist read of the Bible, God knows from the beginning of time (possibly ‘before’ if before is an appropriate word), who will repent. (Calvinism does go further to say God instills in the person those who will and those who will not repent, but let’s leave that aside for this discussion.)

Rom 9:21     Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Rom 9:22     What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

Rom 9:21 make / poieo- – to make
Rom 9:22 prepared / katartizo- – to alter in some way after made

The Calvinist sense of God’s time leads to these two words having the same meaning. The vessels of 9:22 are created with the intent to destroy. Whereas with a human eye on time, God creates the vessels. They either continue on a wayward path (total depravity) or at some point go bad. He then sets them aside, as it were, allowing them to wallow in their own wickedness until that day when their destruction is advantageous to His plan. They were not created for destruction, but needing to be destroyed, He decides when.

Judas and Pharaoh come to mind. Under Calvinism, they were created to destroy. Under the Bible’s human view of time, they were created and were provided opportunity to come to God. Remaining in their wickedness, continuing to defy God, He led them on their way out in such a way as to further His plans.

Let’s not be squeamish. God does make decisions on the heart which he guides. 1 Samuel 2:25 “…But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the LORD desired to put them to death.” I’m not sure it would have been impossible for them to repent. But God is not make it easier. He hardens hearts. We know because He tells us so. Exodus 9:12 “And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart…”

II. God wills to save all but doesn’t

John Piper does an excellent job in the article ‘Are There Two Wills in God?‘ outlining the view which arose from Augustine, codified during the Reformation while slightly slanting his opposing view.

“There are two possibilities as far as I can see. One is that there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian affirms this.”

“The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. This is the solution that I as a Calvinist affirm along with Arminians. In other words both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvinist and Arminian answer that God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.”

“The difference between Calvinists and Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is. What does God will more than saving all? The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).”

Most Arminians I’ve spoken with would say love is the key (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). As God is love (1 John 4:8), we must have the capacity for love to be in relationship with the Father.  And for true love to exist, we must have free will.

I would agree up to the last sentence. I think God alone possesses free will. At the moment He exerts influence, which is before man was created, total free will is a myth. Additionally, God has delegated authority. He can reign in that authority, but much of the time he allows the angelic realm and man to continue forward whether or not this counters His will. So there are powers in the universe which frustrate God’s will, me included. Sorry God. He simply uses them in furthering His plans (Romans 8:28). Yet love we see remains.

III. Viewing God through Doctrine

To sum up. Calvinists try to save God’s sovereignty. Arminians try to save love. But does a sovereign God who is love need protection in these areas? Theology endangers neither. God declared Creation to be as it is. Doctrine can not alter reality.

I’m quite pessimistic it can be avoided. We all have made decisions on how to read the Bible, doctrine. Doctrine alters our perception of God. And through our perception of God, we relate to Him.

God is sovereign, the first Mover
God is love
God delegates
God created us in love
God wishes us all to be saved

We are not God
We are not love
We delegate from what has been received
We were created to be loved and to love
We battle between being saved and attempting to save ourselves

Only God can save us. We are incapable of saving ourselves.

I would guess it then becomes a question of to what we being saved. Does the Bible leave off there? One thing is sure. John 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” Even having seen Him, a myriad of new questions would be created by any new knowledge we gain. This can be seen clearly in physics.

We need to battle over ideas. Test ideas while testing each other. The difficult answer seems to mean recognizing where the Bible leaves off, marking this spot as the stopping point. Theology and rank speculation. This should be one of the most important battles we have; the battle we all recognize and respect. The battle to proclaim the Word of the Bible. The battle to quiet a commitment to doctrine which exceeds what the Bible teaches.

Back to Piper. “The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).” John Piper is a great evangelist. My assumption is he, as do many other Calvinists, holds that the Gospel regenerates the Elect; the Gospel being preached by other men. So one of the means at God’s disposal for showing glory in wrath and mercy and humbling men is other men. I say let the wicked men be used to apply the wrath and the children of God be used to apply mercy. This is clearly not the case if in the fight over doctrine, Arminian and Calvinist, Christians saved by Christ both, Christians executed other Christians.

God doesn’t need us to save His love. God doesn’t need us to save His sovereignty. God instructs us to submit to His will. His will is given to us by the Word and written on our hearts. Both tell me that outside of prophecy and some future plans, the Bible is written with a human understanding of time.


  1. Once again a great read. You are one good Christian thinker….gives me much to think about. Thanks

  2. Thanks very much. That’s most encouraging.

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