Grace A. Johnson
Predestination - Part 1 (Theories of Man)
What Is Predestination?
Predestination is a broad and nuanced theological theory. It is, in fact, less a theory and more a belief system in and of itself. To pick apart this system would take decades. The perspectives from which I could do that are innumerable. I will only select a few, although by far the most important. But before I dive into the many aspects of predestination, you must first understand exactly what it is, in every respect.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about Calvinism here. Calvinism is the umbrella under which predestination rests. Jean Calvin drew many conclusions in his study of the Bible, forming the Calvinistic belief system many people, churches, and denominations have adopted over the last four and a half centuries. Only one of these conclusions, of which there are many, is predestination. It is the foremost, yes, and the most regularly debated, while his other theories and discoveries, such as the preservation of the saints and the total depravity of man are less acknowledged, although they are tied directly to predestination itself.
However, I will not be examining these other things today. I am not, by definition, examining Calvinism, as Jean Calvin did not invent predestination—the theory has existed in many other religions, cultures, and eras long before, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Before we begin, I want it to be clear that neither am I supporting Arminianism or conditional elect nor am I condemning those who believe in Calvinism and predestination. I, like yourself, am learning step by step the intricate nuances of this belief and what the Bible says concerning it. The reason why I’m studying predestination is because it is quite easily the most debatable and seemingly proven theory present in the Christian faith.
Those who believe in Calvinism and/or predestination, of which there are many, do not understand the entirety of this system, as it has rarely been expounded upon. It is too vast a subject to cover in Sunday School. So, please, I ask that you not approach this post as though I am trying to persuade you. In fact, my intention is to inform you of the true nature of predestination, in whatever light you choose to see it.
The fundamentals of predestination is all I will expound upon for the time being, as there are five subdivisions of predestination: conditional election, infralapsarianism (the sister of supralapsarianism), double predestination, corporate election, and Middle Knowledge.
Conditional election is, you could say, the glue holding Arminianism together. It is the exact opposite of unconditional elect, which inspired Calvin’s views on predestination. It is less a part of predestination and more closely related to the subject of free will. Conditional election is the belief that God ordained salvation for all those He foresaw would have faith in Christ. This, in fact, is perhaps the most plain of these “types” of predestination. As God is all-knowing, He knew before the foundation of the world who would go on to choose His Son in the future, and therefore established their destiny, or their “destination,” in Heaven.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8.29-30).
Infralapsarianism is the view held close by Calvinism, often referred to as “double predestination,” which is the belief that instead of relying upon His foreknowledge, God used His own free will to chose salvation for whom He would and damnation for whom He would. With this view, Calvin gave his definition of predestination:
“By predestination, we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. Not all are created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death.”
Although infralapsarianism includes other intricate views (such as the time at which God predestined the elect), its basis is double predestination, which can be considered a form of predestination apart from infralapsarianism.
On the other hand, you have corporate election. Simply put, it is a combination of free will and predestination. Rather than ordaining the salvation of individuals prior to creation, God chose a group of people—for instance, the Church. Therefore, it is by one’s own free will that one chooses to become a part of the Church, but by God’s ordinance that the Church as a whole is accepted into eternal life.
Middle Knowledge is wholly separate from Calvinism, as it was developed by Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, and thereby falls underneath Molinism. This view holds that God knew, before the creation of the world, what every freethinking creature would choose of their own will in every possible situation they might be presented with in life, and that He chose which of these “possible realities” was the most aligned to His will. Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it?
To pick apart each of these views and belief systems would be exhausting, especially considering some of them do not directly apply to what we believe now, in our modern-day American denominations. Therefore, I want to focus on unconditional election, the backbone of predestination that remains mostly unchanged despite other surrounding ideals and theories.
Unconditional election is just that—selecting random people to become saved. There is nothing they can do to avoid, halt, or change their fate. Likewise, double predestination is applying unconditional election to damnation as well as salvation. As God chose some for Heaven, He chose some also for Hell. In other words, He did not take His chosen—His elect—and then leave the rest. He willfully assigned people to Hell without bias toward who or what they would become once placed upon the earth.
Most of us assume that Calvin invented predestination; however, many other scholars and even other religions held to this belief long before the famed theologian came along. Predestination existed, firstly, in Judaism. According to Josephus (a first-century AD Romano-Jewish historian), wrote that the Essenes and Pharisees, two Jewish sects during the time of Second Temple Judaism, held to the belief that God’s providence (also known as His sovereignty) ordered all human events. Unlike them, the Sadducees had neither an opinion nor a doctrine regarding God’s sovereignty. Although several other scholars have argued the accuracy of Josephus’ portrayal of these groups, the consensus is that these Jewish sects believed that God ordained the salvation (which, of course, had a different definition before Christ) of certain Jewish individuals, if not everything.
Throughout the next several centuries and on into the Middle Ages, scholars and theologians such as Origen in the 3rd century and Augustine of Hippo had many thoughts on the subject of predestination. They believed that God’s predestination of certain individuals was based upon their merits, which preserved the idea of free will. Augustine’s opinions began to change as he accepted double predestination and irresistible grace, and his views closely mirrored Calvin’s by the late 4th century. Several councils in the early church also accepted these beliefs.
Ninth-century Saxon monk and theologian Gottschalk believed in double predestination. In the 13th century, William of Ockham taught that God predestined people based upon their good works and merits, while a century before Thomas Aquinas held to the belief that it was due God’s goodness that He chose whom He would save rather than that of the people themselves.
By the time the Protestant Reformation came along, predestination was already a widely-held belief within the Catholic Church. Jean Calvin was merely the first theologian to gather all of these warring theories together, label them, and sell them to both the Catholics and the Protestants.
This is more than just a theory. Predestination changes the way one views everything in life and in the Bible—from creation to the fall to Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection—so don’t take it lightly.
With this in mind, I want to explore with you the belief systemof predestination (namely, unconditional election) in several different areas: Calvinism, Arminianism, Catholicism, Protestantism (mainly the Baptist and Lutheran doctrines), other historical contexts, and within the Word of God itself.
Welcome to “Theories of Man.”
Predestination in Calvinism
To begin with Calvinism, we must go all the way across the Atlantic to Picardy, France in the year 1509. Here, Jehan Cauvin (French, Jean Calvin; in English, John Calvin) was born to a cathedral notary and an innkeeper’s daughter, brought up within the Catholic Church, and later trained as a humanist lawyer in Orleans. As Luther brought revival to Europe, young Calvin broke away from the Catholic Church, converted to Protestantism, fled to Switzerland, and there began his career as one of the most well-known and revered theologians within the Christian faith. His works, including the Institutes of the Christian Religion, his commentaries on multiple books of the Bible, and confessions of faith intended to unite the reformed churches, followed his conversion and set the groundwork for what we now call Calvinism.
Calvin himself describes his Institutes as the summary of his views on Christian theology. Within his first book, he argues the self-authenticating attributes of the Scripture rather than proving the authority of it; opposes the Catholic Church by speaking against images of God, deeming them a form of idolatry; and writes on wisdom and knowledge, stating that the knowledge of God can only be found in studying the Scriptures.
“For anyone to arrive at God the Creator he needs Scripture as his Guide and Teacher."
In the second book, he expounds upon the fall of man and original sin, referring back to Augustine, who fully developed these views in the 4th century. He also wrote about the Old and New Covenants, outlining how they work in tandem to fulfill the same promise of a Savior.
In the third, his focus is on predestination. Rather than fleshing it out, he merely defended and agreed with the doctrine founded by Augustine and expressed by Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. Although he stood by the existence of double predestination, this is what he wrote:
“The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess.”
In his final book, Calvin expressed his views on what the true Church was: the Body of Christ, united as one catholic (e.g., universal) church. He writes on the sacraments, of which he accepted only two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and on the separation of church and state, arguing that civil and church authorities should not interfere with each other.
Although he is often likened to Luther, Calvin’s views were more focused upon the sovereignty and power of God as an authority over all, rather than as the One Who stepped down from Heaven and took on the form of a babe to give grace to the lowest of sinners.
His views on predestination closely resemble those of the early Jewish sects; however, Calvin’s view of Judaism was controversial in his time and ours. As a covenant theologian, he often examined the two promises God made to His people: His first to Abraham and His second with the coming of Christ. He only wrote concerning Jews in his treatise, Response to Questions and Objections of a Certain Jew, stating in it that the Jews misread their own scriptures. He also wrote, “I have had much conversation with many Jews: I have never seen either a drop of piety or a grain of truth or ingenuousness—nay, I have never found common sense in any Jew.” Along with many other Catholics and Reformers in his day, he believed that the Jews were a rejected people and presented many antisemitic views; of course, you’d have to speak with him yourself to know for certain how he felt toward them.
Apart from the similarities between Jewish beliefs and predestination, Calvin stood firm in his defense of Augustine’s doctrine. The sum of his thoughts would be described in this quote:
“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”
In the formation of Calvinism, his acceptance of this doctrine and expansion of it are foremost. Along with what Augustine taught, Calvin invested a great deal of thought into what predestination, in the simple terms Augustine put it, meant in its entirely. He explored the fall of man and original sin, which aligned his views on predestination to infralapsarianism (the belief that the time at which God predestined people coincided with the fall of man); the total depravity of man, the argument Augustine originally gave when Pelagius said that men are not born with or into sin; the “costliness,” if you will, of irresistible grace and the extension of “common” grace to all mankind; and God’s sovereign power and providence over all.
While many throughout the years since Augustine and in Calvin’s lifetime discredited or ignored the doctrine of predestination, he (along with several others) stood firm against controversies, defamation, and even death. He went on to write about this in his third installment in the Institutes:
“This great subject is not, as many imagine, a mere thorny and noisy disputation, nor speculation which wearies the minds of men without any profit; but a solid discussion eminently adapted to the service of the godly, because it builds us up in sound faith, trains us to humility, and lifts us up into an admiration of the unbounded goodness of God toward us, while it elevates to praise this goodness in our highest strains.”
When posed with what this meant for the security of one’ salvation, he wrote:
“For there is not a more effectual means of building up faith than the giving our open ears to the election of God, which the Holy Spirit seals upon our heart while we hear, showing us that it stands in the eternal and immutable goodwill of God toward us; and that, therefore, it cannot be moved or altered by any storms of the world, by any assaults of Satan, by any changes, by any fluctuations or weaknesses of the flesh. For our salvation is then sure to us, when we find the cause of it in the breast of God.”
This brings up a host of questions—from the unpardonable sin to the Arminian (and Church of God) views on “losing” one’s salvation—and takes us to my next section:
Predestination in Arminianism
Just as with Augustine and Pelagius in the 5th century, Calvin had opposition. This, of course, came in many forms, the largest of which was the Catholic Church and those against the Reformation—but the one we know the most is Jacobus Arminius, the theologian Arminianism was named for.
Like in Calvinism, Arminius did not invent his views. He merely enforced them and gathered them into a concise form that was quickly adopted by those who could not reconcile themselves with Calvin’s predestination. His doctrine began with Pelagius, but it is not quite as extreme.
In short, everything Calvin said, Arminius said the opposite—but he did not do so on a whim. He began as a scholar and sought the answers in much the same way Calvin did:
By studying the Word.
Jacobus Arminius was born Jakob Hermanszoon in the year 1560, fifty-one years after the birth of Jean Calvin, in the Spanish Netherlands. As a child, he was orphaned and taken in by Theodore Aemilius, who provided for his schooling. After his death, Rudolf Snellius became his benefactor as young Jakob furthered his studies in Leiden, Basel, and Geneva. During his early years, Jakob adopted the Latinized form of his name, Jacobus Arminius, (is it just me or is it strange that all these theologians changed their names?) and began to study under a staunch anti-Calvinist.
Despite this upbringing, Arminius was more focused on his own studies of the Book of Romans. It was not his views against predestination that fostered Arminianism, but rather his sermons on Romans 7 and 9. For his views on sin, grace, and depravity, he was labeled Pelagian (you remember, that fellow who didn’t like what Augustine had to say). He was called a heretic and discredited by many, but never charged with Pelagianism. Therefore, he continued to study Romans and create an intricate view of grace that closely mirrors Bonhoeffer’s “costly grace” and Paul’s “sufficient grace.”
It wasn’t until he was defending Calvinism to Theodore Coornhert that he truly began to question predestination. With his foundation in what he called prevenient grace, his doubts on unconditional election and determinism were constructed and his doctrine of free will was outlined in an attempt to reform Calvinism.
He lent his name to Arminianism, which became a movement succeeding his death in 1609, when his Dutch followers adopted his views and wrote the Five Articles of Remonstrants. With the immediate domination of Calvinism, Arminian pastors and scholars were persecuted and pushed back. Arminianism didn’t really gain the footing it has now until John Wesley and his brother Charles supported it with their Methodist doctrine.
Romans 7:6-25 was what started it all:
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
“In discussing Romans 7 in 1591, he taught that man, through grace and rebirth, did not have to live in bondage to sin, and that Romans 7:14 was speaking of a man living under the law and convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, yet not presently regenerated. This was met with some resistance, and some detractors labeled him Pelagian for teaching that an unregenerate man could feel such conviction and desire for salvation, even with the influence of the Law and the Holy Spirit” (“Jacobus Arminius”).
On this, Arminius said:
“It is an eternal and gracious decree of God in Christ, by which he determines to justify and adopt believers, and to endow them with eternal life but to condemn unbelievers, and impenitent persons.”
His belief was not that election or predestination did not occur, but that grace through faith was the deciding factor. Grace, he said, is “sufficient for belief, in spite of our sinful corruption, and thus for salvation.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 are the fabulous verses both doctrines have adopted:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
In the subject of free will:
“[T]he grace sufficient for salvation is conferred on the Elect, and on the Non-elect; that, if they will, they may believe or not believe, may be saved or not be saved.”
I have heard many Calvinists argue “salvation through works,” stating that Arminianism is basically an acceptance of this view (which no one really accepts; not even the Catholics, so y’all just let that go...please). However, back in the days of Augustine and before, predestination was determined by works or individual merits. Calvin reformed this view with infralapsarianism, but that doesn’t mean Arminius ever accepted it. Free will has nothing to do with works and boasting; it is all about being made in the image of God and being given the same free will to accept the grace that God used to predestine people.
Predestination and free will work in tandem.
And, to begin with, Arminius believed that.
Anglican evangelist Dr. William G. Witt states that “Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God's redemption in Christ, not through human effort.”
It wasn’t until others took over Arminianism after his death that the doctrine adopted the extreme views we are accustomed to.
The continually lost salvation that brings Pentecostals to the altar every Sunday was not original to Arminius’s doctrine. I would wager to say that how most of us see Arminianism (including myself) is extreme in and of itself. While it is true that the theology has differed from its original state, most of the wild views associated with it have been conjured up in recent years.
Man’s words are not infallible, as Scripture is. We cannot trust theology and theory to have remained unaltered over time—in fact, the point of the human thought process is to continually evolve and grow. Theology, the study of the existence of a supreme spiritual being, is meant to change. The ideas presented by man are not always true and pure.
This applies to everything man-made and man-thought in life, but especially views such as predestination and free will.
Only one thing stays the same, only One is true.
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This examination is far from over. However, I’m finding that this post is looking more and more like a college thesis; therefore, I shall break it up into two parts. Think on this for a while, then return within a few weeks for Part 2 of Theories of Man: Predestination!
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