Who Knows the Secret Will of God? Deuteronomy 29:29

Derek Ouellette —  September 9, 2011

Recently Justin Taylor was asked a question about evangelising to those who are “not chosen by God”. Taylor essentially answers that ultimately we cannot know who the “elect” are until Judgment Day. I’d agree. (Of course we understand how this plays out quite differently, but put that aside for the moment.) So Justin says that “we must obey God’s revealed will, which is to preach the gospel indiscriminately”. Then he adds in brackets, “For the distinction between Gods secret and revealed will, see Deut. 29:29”.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

The problem for me at this point is that Calvinists seem to “know” (gnosis) what those secret things are. If God’s revealed will – as Justin says – is to preach the gospel indiscriminately, why not let your orthodoxy match your orthopraxy?

In other words, why not preach what you practice? And, as Deuteronomy says, leave the secret things to God.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://lisadelay.com Lisa Colon DeLay

    Ah yes…. “Secret things”….. does this remind anyone else of Gnosticism?

    This idea, as I’ve heard it, seems to undercut the idea of unmerited favor itself. (Grace)

    Here’s another large problem…One cannot stick to it, unless the mentally disabled get stuck into another category… a grace one. I’ll take some of that category, please. As I’ve posted at my blog, my son is mentally challenged, and at the moment rejects God as “unbelievable”. No secret knowledge for him and doomed to hell I guess. That’s a bummer.

    I will be flinging myself at the Lord’s throne of grace. I’m pretty sure that is all the special knowledge I have. I’m helpless. That. is. all.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hi Lisa, thanks for the comment. I agree very much. I often get slightly perturbed when Calvinists refer to Calvinism as “the doctrines of Grace”. Hardly!

      P.S., I like your blog and enjoyed the interview with Caleb Wild.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Because clearly Deuteronomy 29:29 was talking about TULIP…

  • Myron

    Yeah, the appeal to Dt. 29:29 is incredibly weak. The issue of the logic of evangelism in a Calvinist schema has nothing to do with what the evangelist does/does not know about the ultimate destiny of lost persons with whom they share the gospel. Among other things, at issue is whether or not the offer of gospel hope to lost people is genuine if indeed they have been chosen unconditionally for eternal damnation for the sake of God’s glory. For someone who has been unconditionally elected for reprobation from eternity past, there has never been, nor will there eve be, hope for fellowship with God through Christ in the Spirit. Whether or not the evangelist knows how this will shake out on Judgment Day is immaterial. The point is that the objective hope a believer offers to a non-elect unbeliever when sharing the gospel with him/her is simply a pipe-dream.

  • Ken Stewart

    Embedded in your analysis of this question, I think I sense a logical fallacy.I think it is the fallacy of the false premise.
    It goes something like this: 1)Deuteronomy 29.29 indicates that there are things ‘secret’ to God as well as things ‘revealed’ by God. 2) Calvinists say that they acknowledge and respect this distinction, yet 3)they nevertheless affirm that there is a divine election according to which God’s mercy is discriminating in the sense that He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, thus 4)they are inconsistent in allowing there to be ‘secret’ things known only to God because by their view of election they are in fact forcing open ‘closed’ councils of God to which neither they nor anyone has access. You attribute this view to Justin Taylor and others in spite of their pledged respect for the distinction between secret and revealed.

    But you have worked from a false premise, which is that Calvinists have in effect ‘collapsed’ the distinction between secret and revealed. They have not.
    The real point of difference is not over what God keeps secret to Himself, but over what He has revealed. Both Calvinists and Arminians accept that there is such a thing as divine election indicated in the Bible; it was operative in the calling of Israel and in the calling of the church. They disagree, however, about its operation. Are Calvinists accused of ‘prying’ too inquisitively into its manner of operation? So might Arminians be, because they are fully confident that Calvinists have got it wrong. But how could this be, if (as your argument implies) election is one of the secret things of God about which humans are not meant to know or inquire? Your argument _ought_ to lead to the conclusion that ignorance or agnosticism about election should be the default position for Christians.
    But you cannot maintain this view with integrity, because election (whether corporate or individual) is such a common theme in both Testaments. Understand it in either the Arminian or Calvinist sense if you will, but it is there in Exodus 33.19 (quoted in Romans 9.13-15). It is there in Jesus in John 6.39, in Paul in Ephesians 1.3,5 and in Peter (2 Peter 1.10). We all know these Scriptures :according to them there is such a thing as divine election.

    This leaves the question of whether a believer may be conscious of election in this life, short of judgment day. Again, Scripture is not silent on this; it does not belong to the ‘secret things’ according to Paul in 1 Thess. 1.4,5 (where Paul inferred it from the welcome the Thessalonians gave to the gospel) or according to Peter in the passage named (where he affirms that election can be made ‘sure’ through obedience and godly living).

    So, whether Calvinist or Arminian, election is among the things ‘revealed’; the possession of it, also, is something discernible in this life. And so, by this extension, knowledge of election is also among the things revealed.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hmmmm…. Ken, I think you have “some” of me pegged. But I’m not convinced that my premise is false (yet!). It does seem to “us” (i.e. non-Calvinists) that Calvinism effectively collapses God’s revealed will (that he desires all to be saved) and secret will (that he secretly only wishes some to be saved) in regards to this subject. In explaining #4 you observe how my premise is based on “their view” of election but then discuss the generally agreed upon Calvin-Arminian view of election. In that I think you have made a mistake; where you have mis-pegged me then is here: “election is one of the secret things of God”. I don’t hold that election is a secret thing of God since election is one of the major motifs of Gods revelation within the scriptures. My problem is not with the doctrine of election, but with the idea that God’s revealed will is for all to be saved and His secret will is for only a few. I don’t think we can appeal to a secret will here because, well, if it was a secret will, not even Calvinists would be aware. And that is the point of contention.

      As an aside, many Calvinist specialists who I have read would disagree with your statement that conscious or awareness of election can be known before Judgment Day (given the historical reality of people who “seemed” by all outward appearances – even as far as they themselves thought – were saved and at some point fell away). Paul in Thessalonians is speaking to the corporate group – there is no need to press that into an awareness of every individual within that group, and Peter’s reference is interesting because they are instructed to make their election sure and in this way they will not fall. In other words, remain in Christ so that you will not fall (which sounds pretty much like an Arminian reading to me). However, as a non-Calvinist, I agree that an surety of our election can be known.

  • Ken Stewart

    So then Derek, in light of your last statement, the difficulty is not with election ‘per se’ (whether held in a Calvinist or Arminian sense) or even one’s hope of being included in the number of elect persons, but only with inferences which _might_ be drawn (but not necessarily). On this question we occupy largely identical ground.

    Such difference as there is seems to lie rooted in the tendency of our systems to absolutize two distinct principles. From the Calvinist side, the principle which gets absolutized is the one found in Exodus 33.19 (quoted in Romans 9.13-15). Mercy is God’s to give and he gives it as it pleases Him to a fallen race. Your position absolutizes a different principle found, for instance in 2 Peter 3.9 “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish”.
    Each position in its attempts to be Scriptural must give some place to the principle at the center of the opposing position (inasmuch as it is undeniably Scriptural). The Calvinist position utilizes 2 Peter 3.9 to insist that all must hear, that all are openly invited
    to repent and believe. We call this the ‘well-meant’ Gospel offer. I confess I am unaware of how your position incorporates the emphasis of Exodus 33.19, but I am sure you make the attempt.
    But with this admitted, both positions must acknowledge in honesty that not all who hear or who are invited to repent and believe do so. Both positions lay the blame on unbelief and hardness of heart. Yet the Arminian position posits the view that the impenitent have been illumined and enabled equally with the penitent (this is prevenient grace). The Calvinist position explains this situation differently: the prevailing operation of the Spirit which is called by Calvinists “effectual calling” has overcome the resistance and disinclination of those on those persons on whom God has determined to show mercy. Yet the finally impenitent have rejected the gospel offered to them on the same terms as the penitent.
    There is sufficient mystery surrounding the operations of the Spirit in the finally impenitent and in those who do believe that we should tread very carefully in trying to explain it ultimately. Stephen accused all his murderers of “resisting the Spirit” (Acts 7.51). This suggests a universal operation of the Spirit accompanying the gospel. Yet Paul in attributing the salvation of the Thessalonians to the working of the Spirit says that in their case “the gospel came not only with words, but with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1.4), which I take to mean that in their cases the Holy Spirit prevailed in a way that He did not with Stephen’s murderers. I think it is safe to say that the inferences we make about these Scriptures are controlled by our differing first principles named above.

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