You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. - Inigo Montoya, The Princess BridePredestination is always a popular subject for discussion. (Just for today and only in my blogroll, see predestination discussions here and more predestination discussions here.) Those who like a good brain-teaser and those who like a good brawl are often both satisfied. However, there is not complete agreement within Christian camps about how predestination works or what it entails. It isn't well known, even in some Christian circles, that there are different models of understanding predestination. In the hopes of raising awareness, I'm going to discuss two of the more common views as best I can and give a review of the basic points of each model of predestination. I will present criticisms commonly voiced against each view and how those criticisms are evaluated by those holding each view. Then I will take a brief look at two areas where these views clash: the question for whom Christ died, and the question of where we find security.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly already knows which view I hold; I welcome responses from people of all views.
The Sovereigntist View of Predestination
I. Basic Outline
The Sovereigntist view places God's absolute sovereignty as the foundation of theology. In this view, God's sovereignty is the most important and ultimately defining aspect of theology and of all other things as well. The most common expression of this view is the Calvinist TULIP. The focus of predestination is on the individual person. Therefore it's a "double predestination" system in which God, before the foundation of the world, pre-determines which people will go to heaven and which will go to hell without regard to anything they might do, and arranges peoples' beliefs and eternal destinies according to what he had chosen for them before he created them. The TULIP affirms mankind's total depravity, God's unconditional election of some individuals but not others to salvation, the limited work of Christ in making satisfaction only for those God had ordained to come to him, irresistible grace, and eternal security/perseverance so that it is impossible for someone once saved to fall away.
For much of the TULIP (some would say all), the touchstone is God's sovereignty. For example, if God willed to save someone but it were possible for man to resist that grace, would God still be sovereign? Or again, if God willed to save someone and they had received grace but then later fell away, would God still be sovereign?
II. View of Scripture
Typically, the sovereigntist takes a view of Scripture so that some Scriptures re-interpret others. For example, "God so loved the world" or "is not willing that any should perish" are interpreted in light of the Sovereigntist view.
III. View of God
The sovereigntist view of God begins with a certain set of God's attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence). From there it reasons about how God must necessarily be seen to interact with the world, given the basic premise that God's most important characteristic is his sovereignty.
This view has often been faulted for making God the only meaningful obstacle to salvation for those who are condemned. On the view that God is sovereign and grace is irresistible, mankind's depravity is not a meaningful obstacle to salvation, but the only meaningful obstacle is God's unwillingness to save. Because of this view that God's unwillingness to save is the relevant cause of condemnation, the sovereigntist view has also been criticized for being destructive of a full trust of God, which is to say, destructive of faith in God, not in the sense of faith in God's existence, but in the sense of faith in God's goodness and faithfulness towards his creation. The sovereigntist view has also been faulted for straining some Scriptures fairly far in order to make them compatible with various points of the TULIP, for redefining words in ways that are difficult to support from the context or from word studies, and for denigrating some Scriptures in favor of others. It has been criticized for elevating other characteristics of God over his love, for giving a very limited place to the role of Christ, for removing Christ from the foundational role of theology, and for portraying God as the mediator between Christ and man rather than Christ as the mediator between God and man. Another common criticism is that this view of predestination makes our lives irrelevant to a significant degree, which again is seen as a breach of faith between God and man. It is often questioned whether the use of force -- pulling rank or enforcing sovereignty -- is compatible with the goal of re-establishing faith, fellowship, and trust.
V. Responses to Criticisms
Typically, those who hold the sovereigntist model of predestination do not see these criticisms as valid or relevant. The only concern recognized as valid and relevant is whether God has exercised his sovereignty in such a way that no other factors besides bare, unmediated predestination of an individual could be relevant to someone's ultimate fate.
The Christological View of Predestination
I. Basic Outline
The Christological view of predestination places Christ as the foundation of theology and of knowing God. The focus of predestination is not an individual, but Christ's saving work. There is no direct predestination for an individual, but all of God's interactions with an individual -- including election and predestination -- occur in and through Christ as the mediator between God and man. Therefore it is a "single predestination" system in which Christ dies for the whole world, and those in Christ are predestined before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God. But since the focus of predestination is on Christ and not the individuals, God neither irresistibly forces someone to come to Christ, nor forces them to remain with Christ, nor prevents them from coming to Christ. Neither is God disinterested in the salvation of anyone, but sent Christ for all alike. This view has no catchy acronym, but it does share some of the same assumptions as the TULIP. It affirms mankind's lost and depraved state, the need for a savior, and the inability of people to bring themselves to faith. Unlike the TULIP, it affirms that Christ died for all, but that grace (which comes through Christ) is resistible, including the fact that turning away from Christ is possible for someone who once believed. On this view, a person does not have God's decision of predestination himself, but only in Christ, so that God has chosen that those who are saved and forgiven and renewed are those in Christ. In this way, in Christ we have all spiritual blessings, and apart from Christ we do not.
II. View of Scripture
The view of Scripture is that all passages must stand at their own face value and that none can override another. It is maintained that the applicable Scriptures are able to be understood each in its own context without reinterpretation and without any resulting contradiction.
III. View of God
The Christological model holds that God has revealed himself most clearly in Christ, and that good theology therefore necessarily understands God primarily through Christ. From there, and especially from the incarnation and the cross, it is reasoned that God chose weakness rather than strength in reconciling the world to himself.
The Christological model has been criticized for saying that there are those for whom Christ died who are lost, for saying that there are those who once believed who later fall away, and for saying that grace is resistible. From the perspective of an unmediated predestination model such as TULIP, grace is necessarily irresistible, and anything else is viewed with suspicion as probably Arminian. It has been criticized as unreasonable to view that God would act in such a way that he would save some but allow to fall away, or allow to resist grace, if he in fact desires salvation. The Christological view is sometimes criticized for saying that not only do a person's actions and choices have relevance to how we are judged at the Last Day, but that our choices can be contrary to what God desires for us. This view has been faulted for permitting a discrepancy between what God decrees must happen and what God desires to happen. It is also commonly criticized for being difficult to understand, since predestination is seen as mediated through Christ rather than working directly on an individual. In summary, the general criticism is that it does not place God's sovereignty as the most important thing about God and does not place sovereignty at the foundation of all theology.
V. Responses to Criticisms
Those who hold the Christological view would say that the Scriptures affirm that Christ must be the foundation of all theology, and that God has chosen that love should be more defining of his actions than sovereignty.
For the Christological view, the complaint of its unreasonableness is expected because God's action in Christ was not what human reason would have anticipated. Still, it is held that the reality of God's revelation takes precedence of truth despite any complaints of unreasonableness.
The criticism of being Arminian is rejected as misplaced on the grounds that the Christological model teaches that people cannot save themselves, which rejects the Arminian view. The Christological model teaches that salvation comes from God but damnation from man, as opposed to an Arminian view that both hinge on man's decision, or a Calvinist view that both hinge on God's unmediated decision focused on an individual before creation. Typically, those who hold a Christological view of predestination would respond to the remaining criticisms by reviewing how the Bible explicitly mentions those who resisted grace, those who fell away, the dangers of falling away, and those who are lost even though Christ died for them. Those who hold the Christ-centered view of predestination often point out that while such passages cause a problem for a Sovereigntist view of predestination, they are not a problem for the view that predestination is mediated to us through Christ.
The discrepancy between God's desire for everyone's salvation and God's will that people are not forcibly saved is seen as a logical necessity based on the God-given nature of mankind from creation. That is, the image of God which God values in saving us would become meaningless, destroyed, or nullified if God made changing our minds and spirits an exercise of raw power, and that using such an act of raw power to bring about the new nature would be a breach of faith with the nature he originally created and desires to redeem.
On the complaint that the Christological view is difficult to understand, it is plain that Christ's mediating position between God and man does have an additional layer compared to the sovereigntist model. This additional layer is defended on the grounds that Scripture teaches Christ as the mediator and teaches that predestination is in and through Christ. Those who hold the Christ-centered view do not see it as complicated, but as affirming the simple truth that John the apostle wrote, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (I John 5:12). This is arguably at least as simple as sovereignty-centered predestination.
Differences: For whom did Christ die?
One place where the two models of predestination clash fairly plainly is over the question of for whom Christ died. The sovereigntist model states that Christ did not die for all; he died only for those God chose to come to faith. At the Last Day, the limit or boundary of salvation is God's decision about which individuals he wants to come to Christ.
The Christological model states that Christ died for all. At the Last Day, the limit or boundary of salvation is those who received God's Fullness, which is Christ, when he came. This is based on God's decision that Christ is the only way in which he saves the world. Therefore there is no such thing as a person that God is not willing to save and does not wish to come to repentance, and no such thing as a person for whom Christ did not die, though Christ's death is of no effect for those who despise Christ and separate themselves from the blessings found only in him.
The Christological view and the Sovereigntist views are involutions of each other. Each affirms that at the Last Day some people are saved and others lost as per the Scriptures, so that there is a limit to which people are ultimately saved. However, one camp maintains that the limit is placed by God's disinterest in some peoples' salvation, while the other maintains that the limit is because God disowned the use of force in re-establishing fellowship and trust with us, instead choosing the cross of Christ.
Differences: Where do we find security?
Another place where the two views of predestination clash is the question of where our security comes from. The sovereigntist camp places security in God's decree about a particular person, which cannot be undone. On the other hand, God's intent towards you can never be known with objective certainty either. The Christological camp places security in the fact that, in Christ, God is certainly and beyond doubt for you and for your salvation, that certainly and beyond doubt Christ died for you and was the atoning sacrifice for your sins. On the other hand, it is possible for a person to reject Christ, and all that entails in rejecting the spiritual blessings which are given only in and through Christ. God calls all people through the cross of Christ, which is seen as the true wisdom of God and the true power of God. Security is found in Christ, and true security can be found nowhere else. When someone questions their salvation, the answer is, "What does the Scripture say? 'For the world?' Is there any reason you believe this is not for you?"
You say: Yes, I would gladly believe it if I were like St. Peter and St. Paul and others who are pious and holy; but I am too great a sinner, and who knows whether I am predestinated? Answer: Look at these words! What do they say, and of whom do they speak? "For God so loved the world"; and "that whosoever believeth on him." Now, the world is not simply Peter and Paul, but the entire human race taken collectively, and here no one is excluded: God's Son was given for all, all are asked to believe, and all who believe shall not be lost etc. Take hold of your nose, search in your bosom, whether you are not also a man (that is, a piece of the world) and belong to the number which the word "whosoever" embraces, as well as others? If you and I are not to take this comfort to ourselves, then these words must have been spoken falsely and in vain. -- Martin Luther, from a sermon on John 3:16-21