What Does God Know, and When Did He Know It?

I continue my lonely march through the section on God’s decree (Chapter 3) from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. By way of reminder:

  • This is an unapologetically Calvinist and Reformed document.
  • Baptists have historically been well-represented in both Calvinist (i.e. “Particular Baptist”) and Arminian (i.e. “General Baptist”) camps. To suggest otherwise is foolishness.
  • My comments are on the text of the confession, particularly on what those who wrote it and confessed it (and still confess it) believed.

Here is the next excerpt:

Paragraph 2:

Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions,[1] yet hath He not decreed anything, because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.[2]

This is a short one, but vitally important. God knows everything that can or will happen. Got it. This isn’t exactly news. Every Christian ought to agree, unless you believe in the heresy of open theism. The confession reads God knows everything “upon all supposed conditions.” I take this to mean God knows everything that will happen, to the degree that He even knows the circumstances and context in which a given event will happen. The crux is what, exactly, you mean when you say “God knows everything.”

  • Does He know it because He’s like some kind of ninja chess player, seeing 40 moves ahead and plotting accordingly?
  • Or, does God know all things because He determined all things?

There is a very wide and impassable gulf between these two poles. They’re different. They impact how you read and apply the Bible. What does this confession say about this? It says option #1 (above) is wrong. Dead wrong. Deader than a doornail. Incorrect. God did not decree anything because He looked down the corridors of time and foresaw it. He also did not decree something because He foresaw the circumstances and conditions which would produce it.

Let’s get personal, and draw some practical implications from this document:

  • God doesn’t save Fred Smith because He saw that, 500 years hence, Fred would repent and believe the Gospel. This is wrong, according to the confession.
  • God doesn’t bless Jessica Ravenclaw with a ninja-like skill with numbers so she can be an accountant wizard because He foresaw it would be a good fit for her.

In other words, God was not passive when He determined the course of the world. He didn’t break out cosmic performance evaluations and assign talents, abilities, roles, status, or eternal salvation from damnation based on something He foresaw or foreknew. There is no crystal ball. God did not see or learn something about somebody, which then led Him to determine future events based on this information. No. No. Double no.

This is what the 1689 London Baptist Confession is saying. This is what Reformed theology says. It is very important to understand this. We’ll tackle more soon. For now, let me remind folks of this very important fact:

  • If you want to know what a particular group or denomination actually believes, look to their creeds and confessions. Don’t ask Pastor Google or your neighbor. They’re usually wrong.

Until next time . . .


[1] Acts 15:18

[2] Rom 9:11,13,16,18.

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