Monday, October 02, 2006

Two Views of Predestination

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. - Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
Predestination 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.

IV. Criticisms
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.

IV. Criticisms
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


DougALug said...


As usual, thanks for the great info. I don't really agree with either, but heh! To me, the wrong focus is on what is really 'predestined'. Both of the theories presented fall flat if you say that Christians (no individuals)... as in... 'those in Him' are predestined to be spotless and without blame.

There is a bit of this debate on Codepoke's blog. You really should jump in.

God Bless

Weekend Fisher said...

The focus of predestination, according to Scripture, is what God does through Christ. Ephesians 1 in particular has that all through it so strongly that it's nearly beating us over the head with it. Predestination is not eenie-meenie-minie-moe on who's saved; it's that Christ is where God meets man and the way that God saves us.

I'd always be glad to hear you present your views.

Take care & God bless

DougALug said...


it's that Christ is where God meets man and the way that God saves us

Amen! The vehicle of salvation is the focus. As usual, great stuff WF!

God Bless

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks.

I found this through the Christian Carnival.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I think you're confusing Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism here. Calvinists are compatibilists about human freedom and divine soereignty. Hyper-Calvinists are hard determinists, denying human freedom and choice.

Calvinists do not say that God loves only the elect, just that God's saving love only applies to the elect, while God's creating love applies to all he created.

Calvinists do not deny that in some sense Christ died for all. That is Hyper-Calvinism. Calvinists insist on a general offer to all to be saved, and the atonement applies to any who will believe, with real choices granted to all. Those who are elect are the only ones who do believe, and they are the only ones to whom the atonement is applied, but Arminians believe that too. Limited Atonement is thus a confusion over terms in most cases, since both views accept the same theological truth that Christ's death was only intended for those who would be saved but is open to anyone who does believe.

I don't think what you're calling single predestination is how the temr is usually used. People who use that term are usually Calvinists who are unwilling to acknowledge that electing some particular people to salvation has the necessary consequence that everyone else will be damned. The view you're describing might better be called potential predestination, since no one is specifically predestined either to life or to death. What is predestined is the method of salvation, by which God can't guarantee that anyone at all will be saved. Single predestination would have such a guarantee without somehow having its logical implication that the others will be damned. That doesn't seem to be the view you have in mind.

By the way, there are plenty of people who hold the view you set up as the second view who hold to perseverance of the saints. It's a completely separate issue. One issue is about whether God is sovereign over people's free choices regarding becoming saved. The other is about whether God is sovereign over people's free choices regarding staying saved. Lots of people deny the first kind of sovereignty but affirm the second. Most Wesleyans/Arminians I know in fact do that.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Jeremy

The point of this was to open up the discussion of how many different ways there are to see predestination. For instance, a good number of Calvinists genuinely believe there's no such thing as a theological view outside of Calvinism or Arminianism.

But as you were drawing a distinction between Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists, you also mentioned:

Jeremy writes: << People who use that term (single predestination) are usually Calvinists who are unwilling to acknowledge that electing some particular people to salvation has the necessary consequence that everyone else will be damned. >>

As a side note, "single predestination" is one way in which Lutherans describe the view of predestination mediated through Christ (Eph1); discussions of predestination are not strictly a Calvinist phenomenon.

But when you get to the point of saying that God electing some particular people to salvation has the necessary consequence that everyone else will be damned, what do you say is the cause of election? Are you a TULIP-type person yourself, where God's unmediated election of some but not others occurs before time and independent of anything that happens in time? If so, that logically negates the view that a person's choice or actions in life have anything to do with it, and you're right back to the reason some are lost is that God chose not to elect them. It removes the meaningful distinction between Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists for the purposes of this particular discussion.

I'm familiar with the Calvinist view (non-hyper-C)that while God's saving love does not apply to everyone, but still God's generalized love (not including salvation) does apply to everyone. I'd ask: if you were to weigh in the scales the fleeting enjoyment in this world and the glory in the world to come, versus the fleeting enjoyment in this world and an eternity of damnation on the other, does the love of God shown to the one group even slightly compare to the love of God shown to the other group? (Of course not.) The most meaningful love God gives us, what gives meaning and hope to our lives in a fallen world, is his redemptive love. To say that the boundaries of his redemptive love was fixed on certain individuals before the world was made is to say that God does not love most people in the most meaningful way.

JP << The view you're describing might better be called potential predestination, since no one is specifically predestined either to life or to death. >>

WF: No, that's trying to put it back into the Calvinist framework, and it really is distinct and cannot be fitted into a system with such a different framework. In the Christological system, predestination is about what the work of Christ accomplishes in all who have Christ; in the TULIP/sovereigntist system, predestination is about individuals, and whether or not they can come to Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith is of this type, when it claims a second type of call for those God wills to save. Would you say the Westminster Confession of Faith isn't a mainstream Calvinist confession? Or would you say that a mainstream Calvinist view includes that there are those God never intended to save, otherwise they would have been called efficaciously?

Cruv said...


I'm interested in further discussion/reading on the Christological view of Predestination. Do you have more articles, books, and other resources of which I can read?

Gary said...

Is someone else's Salvation dependent on YOU?

One of the biggest criticisms of the Lutheran (and Calvinist) position on the Predestination of the Elect is that it removes the motivation to spread the Gospel/to do missionary work. "If God has already chosen who will be saved, why bother spending your time preaching the Gospel to sinners? God will take care of it, I don't need to worry about it."

It is true that Lutherans believe that God has already chosen those who will be saved (but they do NOT believe that God has predestined anyone to hell, regardless of what some people believe Luther may have said at one point in his life). It is also true that we Lutherans believe that sinners do not have a free will to choose God. So no matter how hard we try to convince sinners of their need for a Savior, if God has not predestined them for salvation, they will NOT believe, they will not be saved.

The advocates of Free Will Theology say that a sinner IS capable of choosing God. Therefore, it is our job as Christians to witness to every human being with whom we come into contact in our daily lives, because our efforts may be the trigger for them to "accept" Christ." These Christians base their belief on the passage of Scripture that states, "for whom he did foreknow, those he did predestine...". They take this to mean that God's predestination is based on God foreknowing that at some point in the future, that a particular person would make a free will decision to believe in Christ.

Lutherans and Calvinists say that this is impossible since Romans chapter 3 tells us that no one seeks God. Making a decision for God is "seeking" God, and therefore an impossibility according to God's Word.

But are we Lutherans and the Calvinists really off the hook when it comes to sharing the Gospel? It is true, we absolutely should be out preaching the Gospel to our neighbors simply because Christ commands us to do it, but, really, what are the consequences of our disobedience on this one issue? A slap on the wrist when we get to heaven, but no direct consequences for the "un-elect" person to whom we failed to share the Good News?

Lutherans state that we do not know what criteria God used to choose/predestine those whom he will save. But I would like to propose this idea: Yes, it is true that a particular person's election is not dependent on HIS decision to believe since Romans chapter three states that this is impossible. it possible that this person's election is dependent on God foreknowing that YOU would obey his command to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, and in particular, he foresaw that YOU would share the Gospel with this individual, and based on YOU being faithful/obedient and sharing the Good News with that person, God chose/elected that person to be saved??

To believe this would certainly increase our motivation as Lutherans to share the Gospel instead of sitting at home enjoying the blessings of salvation all to ourselves. (Maybe we should share this idea with our Calvinist Christian brothers and sisters to light the "evangelism fire" underneath their behinds also.)

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Gary

Speaking as another Lutheran here, I'd say I've never agreed with those Lutherans who say they do not know on what basis people are elected. We are elected "based on" Christ -- to go by Paul's comments to the Ephesians on how he saw it. Now that very idea -- that we are elected in Christ and through Christ -- causes problems for certain varieties of thought about predestination. To me, I don't really concern myself if it causes problems with theories; the theories should be moved to fit what we know instead of vice versa.

Which still leaves a lot to be said but we have to start a conversation somewhere.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Cruv

I missed your comment back in 2006, and have only found your comment tonight. I'm replying now on the chance that you signed up for email notification on replies.

To reply, then -- I'm thinking of books, and the closest I can think of in books may be "Where God Meets Man" by Gerhard O Forde. But better yet is Paul's letter to the Ephesians. If you diagram that section of Chapter 1 where he's talking about the blessings -- that's a real eye-opener. His topic sentence is that all the spiritual blessings that we have are received in Christ and through Christ -- they're all linked to Christ, and we only have them through him.

It's like a needle and a magnet -- the magnet has the magnetism by itself. The needle has magnetism only through its contact with the needle. Now that's an imperfect illustration because you can rub a needle on a magnet and get a needle to be slightly magnetized too. Maybe it's more like an electromagnet: turn off the power and the magnetism is gone.

Disconnect us from Christ and there is no predestination, because it was only ours through Christ. Disconnect us from Christ and there is no adoption as sons, because it was only ours through Christ.

That's how it sounds to me, what Paul's point is in Eph1.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF