Dealing with a controversial topic in a church setting is not always easy. However, expository preaching will inevitably lead to verses that might otherwise be avoided. As a pastor, I offer the following points for teaching predestination in a church setting:
(1) Anchor all your teaching in Scripture. “Predestination” is a buzzword that unfortunately conveys negative connotations. I have heard Christians say, “The Bible does not teach predestination.” Such a comment is inexcusable when Scripture contains the word itself. Preachers must show their people the texts and help them see that the word is there. The question is not, “Does the Bible teach predestination?” but rather, “What does the Bible teach regarding predestination?” Claiming that the Bible does not teach predestination is tantamount to rejecting parts of Scripture’s teaching.
(2) Teach with patience and kindness. Preachers should be prepared ahead of time for opposition regarding controversial views. We must especially watch our words, so that we speak with humility, not condescension; clarity, not confusion; charity, not anger. While others may not be so patient or kind, preachers should maintain self-control and virtue. Predestination is not a topic to be angered over, but rather something by which the Lord is glorified (Eph 1:5-6).
(3) Address predestination in the context of church history. This may be especially helpful to church members who charge the pastor with some sort of innovative, novel view of salvation. It is imperative that people know about predestination in church history. Speaking about key figures such as Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin and Arminius, etc., provide a helpful context for the discussion. When people mistakenly think predestination exists in a historical vacuum, they may take it less seriously. Church members might say, “Where is this sort of teaching coming from? Is he making this up? I’ve never heard of predestination.” Pastors, let’s help our congregations by placing important doctrines in the context of church history.
(4) Allow time for follow-up questions. This may not always be possible, but teaching a predestination text on a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening is much more conducive to a Q&A follow-up. Let it be said: people who are aware of predestination have questions, objections, and comments to make. Recently after an evening church service, sixteen people stayed after the service to ask questions for forty-five more minutes! That kind of opportunity is invaluable. For instance, you might have said something that was wrongly interpreted, and now you have a chance to clarify. Or you might have partially addressed someone’s concern, and now you have the opportunity to fully satisfy their inquiry.
(5) Answer predestination questions with Scripture. Preachers, you are not dependent on philosophical arguments to convince people of predestination. Use the Scripture! In the end, it doesn’t really matter what your extra-biblical opinions and musings are anyway. Here are some examples. “When did God choose people for salvation?” Take them to Eph 1:4. “Is it unjust and against God’s character for him to elect sinners unto salvation?” Take them to Rom 9:14-18. “Then how are people really responsible for their choices if God predestines some to salvation?” Take them to Rom 9:19-21. “What is the purpose of God showing justice rather than mercy?” Take them to Rom 9:22-23. “Could God have predestined people based on what we foresaw they would do?” Take them to Rom 9:10-13, 16. “Does predestination undermine biblical evangelism?” Take them to 2 Tim 2:8-10. “If God predestines me to salvation, what is the purpose of pursuing holiness?” Take them to 2 Peter 1:3, 10-11. There are many more examples of questions about predestination. This means, pastors, that you must know the Scriptures well to answer objections in a biblical way.
(6) List faithful evangelists and missionaries who believed in predestination. This exercise may help people who might say, “Surely the belief in divine election destroys missionary zeal.” People might be surprised to learn that William Carey, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, etc., all held to predestination according to God’s free choice. And these men were some of the most missional and evangelistic people in the history of Christianity! Since “If God predestines, why evangelize?” is such a common (if not the most common) objection heard against predestination, it will surely be helpful to show that church history contains people who modeled missions and evangelism from a conviction of divine election.
(7) Explain how avoiding predestination does not solve the apparent problems that objections raise. For example, “If God predestines, how are my choices real?” can also be asked if one believes God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge: “If God knows everything that will happen, can I make a genuine choice if I cannot choose contrary to what he knows will occur?” Or, “If God already knows everyone who will be saved, why evangelize since the fact of their salvation is known already?” Or, “If God knows ahead of time who will reject him and suffer eternal condemnation in hell, is it within his character that he created them anyway?” My point in raising these questions is this: sometimes people raise a question that they believe causes problems with (or strikes a fatal blow to) predestination. But the same questions that are made to predestination can be similarly made to the belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. Pointing this out to Christians may help them see that if they are going to avoid predestination because of apparent problems that objections can raise, then will they now abandon God’s foreknowledge? But If they embrace foreknowledge because of Scriptural teaching, despite philosophical questions, should they not also embrace predestination despite the philosophical questions raised against it? (I do not believe that are any fatal objections to predestination, philosophical or otherwise.)
(8) Repeat, restate, reiterate. My experience has been that the longer someone grows up in church without hearing about predestination, the harder it will be for them to receive its teaching from Scripture. Some people have been ingrained for decades to think one particular way about salvation, and so altering that framework can be a slow process. So, the preacher must patiently exhort and restate the texts about predestination over and over, so that the arguments can be grasped, the objections neutralized, and the listener confronted with Scripture. In the end, it is the power of God working through his Word that will open the eyes, warm the heart, humble the boastful, and confound the wise.
(9) Expose how democracy and individualism have influenced the contemporary Christian’s view of divine sovereignty. In a society fueled by one’s vote, choice, rights, and equal opportunity, the teaching of predestination is repulsive to the flesh. Predestination focuses on God’s choice, God’s rights, and his freedom to dispense mercy.
(10) Recommend resources that deal with predestination in more detail. For example, this past summer in 2008, a small group of men and women from our church read Election and Free Will by Robert Peterson. We met on Monday evenings at our parsonage for the whole summer, and we had great discussion among 10-15 people. In my understanding, people will be more apt to read a tough bit of theology in a group so that they can contribute to the discussion, than if they were alone and could busy themselves with something else instead of reading. Also, recommend websites that people can visit. www.desiringgod.org or www.monergism.com are both filled with fascinating articles and sermons that deal with predestination.