Difficult Scripture: A Fresh Approach to Addressing Predestination with Students

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This article is part of a series that looks at how we address difficult or confusing pieces of scripture with young people. Read the last articles in the series here.

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.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

We tackled Romans this past year for our Senior High Sunday School class…sort of. After working through it from September to May, we only made it to chapter 12 before our annual summer format change-up. I don’t suppose there is a richer and more complicated book of the Bible to teach to our youth. Weekly, I experienced this overwhelming feeling: “How am I going to express all of this complex content, and express it in such a way that will be understandable and practical for these teens?”

If it weren’t for Tim Keller’s study on Romans, I don’t think I would have survived.

With all the complexities of Paul’s letter to the Romans, you can imagine my surprise when Stephanie, one of my students, approached me at the end of one of our classes. She said, “I really enjoyed the Sunday School lesson today.” Honestly, that may have been the first time a student had ever said that to me! And which (of our many) Sunday School lessons had Stephanie responded to? Was it that invigorating debate on relevant social issues? Was it the inspirational encouragement of discerning God’s will for your life? Or maybe it was our exciting talk on how amazing heaven is going to be.

Nope, none of the above.

She responded to a lesson on Romans 8’s teaching about predestination.

Now, I suppose some learned scholars get excited about this topic. I confess that I am neither a learned scholar, nor someone who gets excited about the topic of predestination. I’ll admit that when I spend time considering the topic, my head hurts a little bit and I find myself wrestling with all of the same questions that my students might wonder: “How is predestination fair?” “Does the fact that God predestines some to heaven mean that He also predestines others to hell?” “Does predestination mean God just knew in advance who would accept Him? Or is there more to it than that?”

Needless to say, when it comes time for me to teach this to my students, I certainly struggle with how to present not only the text, but to also represent the nature of God: the One doing the choosing.

Another encouraging thing Stephanie said that day was that this was the first time she had been in a study on these verses where the group did not get over-heated with emotionally charged responses. Not surprisingly, discussions about God choosing some and not choosing others usually elicit strong emotions by all who wrestle with this concept.

So what was the content on this Romans 8 lesson? What was different? Under Tim Keller’s tutelage, I emphasized a few key concepts:

  1. I highlighted that this side of heaven, there are going to be some things we simply don’t fully understand about God. I emphasized that if we could easily understand this God who we worship, then He might not really be a God worth worshipping. This helped us wrap our heads around the fact that our ability to understand the concept fully was not a requirement for the teaching to be true. This is pretty huge. It means that our comfort level doesn’t determine God’s ability to be both just and good.
  2. I also spent time talking about the truth (seen throughout the book of Romans) that makes it abundantly clear that God’s choosing me has absolutely nothing to do with me deserving to be chosen. We talked about the fact that if God chooses me, it is actually in spite of the fact that I deserve to go to hell.
  3. We then talked about how amazing it is that God, in eternity past (even before creation), spent time thinking about me – choosing me. What an intimate love story that the almighty God not only thinks about me now, but in fact thought about me way back then! He came up with a plan for me – a plan that included calling me, justifying me, and glorifying me. The ultimate love story from a loving Father and an amazing Savior.

Something about these focuses seemed to take the edge off and engage the hearts of my students. Was that all there is to say about this challenging topic? Of course not. There is much more to be said about God’s nature, man’s nature, and God’s eternal kingdom plan that provides further insight into the topic of predestination. However, what’s undeniable is that our time seemed more fruitful talking about what we do understand from this passage, rather than what we don’t understand.

We understand from Roman’s 8 that in spite of the fact that I deserve eternal punishment, my loving Father has been thinking about me from eternity past and making a plan to rescue me to be His beloved child.

This makes me really grateful. It also makes for a really hopeful discussion in Senior High Sunday School class where students don’t feel like they need to apologize for their God’s sovereign decisions.

 

Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

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