Untangling “Predestination” — Part 3

Summary Reflections

The foregoing survey is now complete. As we have seen, nowhere in the New Testament do we read of anyone being “predestined” to “reprobation” or “destruction,” nor for that matter to “salvation,” or even “to believe.” Even more surprising, perhaps, designate beforehanddoes not meanpredestine” at all, but simply “destine,” whose meaning already denotes the idea of previous determination of a future scenario, i.e., prior to its projected realization, naturally! However, this kind of destiny is conditional and may potentially be forfeited prior to its fulfillment if a condition is not met. Happily, the condition affixed by Scripture is quite in concert with God’s graciousness as historically displayed in His saving justice, that is, His restorative or “premial” justice of raising our Lord from the dead (among whom he was wrongly, undeservedly plunged, yet with such cosmically liberating results!). That singular condition is, of course, durable faith. In a real sense, then, this announced destiny of sonship and the wonderful inheritance of everlasting life, a share in God’s Kingdom on the New Earth, blessings galore, etc.—that manifold destiny is held out as an attainable prize to motivate us to keep trusting Christ and obeying what the Father wants us to achieve as he revealed it in the directions Jesus conveyed to his disciples. As such, these verses do not compel us to hold that only certain arbitrarily chosen individuals are “predestined to salvation” while all the rest are “predestined to destruction,” whether by design or default. Much rather, all who believe and keep on believing are chosen because of their faith in the “stupidity of the heralding” (1 Cor. 1:18-26) of Christ’s resurrection-from-death-by-crucifixion, i.e., his compound “exaltation,” in John’s mode of explaining the matter (John 12:32, 6:44)—which the Father chose in his wisdom as the narrative dynamo for “placing” us in Christ” that we might become sons. This is the way we get “destined” to sonhood, which includes inheriting allotments, portions, or shares in the future Kingdom of God (equivalent to attaining salvation).

Consequently, Jesus’ unique status as Firstborn Son of God, designated beforehand in principle before the ages, in the secret depths of God’s heart of wisdom, thereafter designated in writing within Old Testament prophecy, and ultimately specified in actuality by a veritable historic resurrection, effectively confers sonship on everybody else who believes the Explanation about his resurrection from the dead. All who believe it at heart and declare it verbally before others at their baptism in water are immediately immersed in his Spirit and thereby get incorporated into his now immortal body, destined for inheriting God’s Kingdom on the New Earth…that is, if we stay in the Explanation and don’t defect. Only that Explanation, accepted as Good Seed into our hearts, possesses the power to nurture faith and keep us progressing through the obstacle course of this present wicked age along the sole way of access that Christ blazed to the Father. Christ’s own already historically achieved and forever inalienable destiny is thus our shared and assured destiny if we remain in him, the true Vine, by faith.

John 15:1-14

1I am the true Grapevine, and my Father is the Farmer. 2Every branch in me bringing forth no fruit, He is taking it away, and every one bringing forth fruit, He is pruning [literally, “cleansing”] it, that it may be bringing forth more fruit. 3Already you are pruned [“clean”] because of the Explanation which I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, I also am in you. Just as the branch can not be bringing forth fruit from itself, if it should not be remaining in the grapevine, thus neither you, if you should not be remaining in me. 5I am the Grapevine. You are the branches. He who is remaining in me, and I in him, this one is bringing forth much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone should not be remaining in me, he was cast out as a branch and it withered. And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them, and he is getting burned. 7If ever you should be remaining in me and my Declarations should be remaining in you, whatever you should be desiring, request, and it will be occurring to you. 8In this is my Father glorifyied/accredited, that you may be bringing forth much fruit, and you shall become my disciples. 9Just as the Father loves me, I, also, love you. Remain in my love. 10If ever you should be keeping my directives, you will be remaining in my love, just as I have kept the directives of my Father and am remaining in His love. 11These things have I spoken to you, that my joy should be remaining in you, and your joy may be filled. 12This is my directive, that you be loving one another, just as I love you. 13Greater love than this has no one, that anyone may be laying down his soul for his friends. 14You are my friends if you should be doing whatever I am directing you.”

God’s plan, then, according to which he is administrating the remainder of history to the end of the age, is to “head up the universe in Christ—both that in the heavens and that on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10), reconciling warring factions into one peaceful New Humanity by the blood of the Cross. That’s his wonderfully worthy cosmic objective! It even looks for all the world like we get to participate in that adventurous future, somehow, in modes we are not yet prepared to imagine or verbally capable of articulating. We need to leave room for happy surprises, which “eye perceived not and ear heard not and to which human heart ascended not—whatever God makes ready for those who are loving Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)! Hence the emphasis in 1 Corinthians 1-2 on heralding the Resurrection Explanation of the Cross of Christ—which was mere “stupidity” to the ancient Greeks and a “stumbling-block” to the Jews—“to the entire creation” (Mark 16:15). God wants everybody to hear this Proclamation, which has the attention-getting wisdom and persuasive power to evoke initially and to nurture progressively the quality of trust in God, plus the consequent following of Christ’s directions that will shepherd us along to reach the destined status of perfect sonhood as peaceful “brethren” of our big Brother, the Lord Jesus, long ago perfected through tough, arduous disciplines.

This whole scenario, far from giving undue credit (“glory”) to human beings for figuring out how to get saved or how to gut it out to perfection independent of God’s power—recalling the famous controversy between Pelagius and Augustine—rather gives due credit to the power of God’s Proclamation of his Kingdom and Explanation about Christ’s cruel cross plus God’s ultra-compensating resurrection, which in tandem are calculated to turn the hearts of enemies back to himself in conciliation and peace by nullifying our hostile feelings against him. The Gospel of the Kingdom itself contains the inherent credit/glory, abundant diverse testimony, and prima facie proof to win our confidence and create love, loyalty, and devotion.

Note well: the Holy Spirit is not ushered in to perform the special duty of creating faith; the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible for Heaven’s sake! The Holy Spirit corroborates the Gospel Truth, not seldom with extraordinary evidences of God’s coming Kingdom, yet it’s Proclamation itself is always honored in Holy Scripture (inSpired by Holy Spirit evidently for this very function!) as the divine means for inducing faith. (See Appendix: “The Gospel Story—God’s Living Power to Evoke Faith for Salvation.) Clearly, God, by his appointed mechanism, means to make room for very human faith, but built on very solid ground…if we will amenably accept what is so kindly proffered. Hebrews 11, the longest New Testament passage on a single sustained topic, is all about glorifying/accrediting faith! Reestablishing the unique role of the Gospel message itself to regenerate sinners will go far to disestablish the errant teaching concerning a “graciously arbitrary” “predestination to faith and salvation” of sinners by a prior and unpredictable “regeneration” by the Holy Spirit via an “effectual [irresistable] calling” in the interests of “particularly elect” sinners without regard to their own human wills and divine likeness! Yet does a denial of this common wayward teaching thereby jeopardize our hopeful attainment of our destinies as daughters and sons of God? God forbid! Yet we may be surprised by the verses by which the apostle Paul wished to encourage our willful perseverence!:

Philippians 1:2-11

2Graciousness to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I am thanking my God at every remembrance of you, 4always, in every petition of mine for you all, making the petition with joy, 5for your contribution to the Gospel from the first day until now, 6having this same confidence, that he who undertakes a good work among you will be completing it until the day of Jesus Christ, 7just as it is right for me to be disposed in this way over you all, because you, having me in heart, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, you all are joint participants with me of graciousness, 8for God is my witness how I am longing for you all in the compassions of Christ Jesus. 9And this I am praying, that your love may be superabounding still more and more in realization and all sensibility, 10for you to be testing what things are of consequence, that you may be sincere and no stumbling block for the day of Christ, 11having gotten filled with the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ for the glory/credit and laud of God.”

In case you missed it, Paul has just commended the Philippian congregation for their splendid contribution of undertaking the good work of defending and confirming the Gospel along with him, as fellow-participants in God’s graciousness through the Lord Jesus Christ, and, moreover, with joy and great expectations that they will continue to perform such good works sincerely and without stumbling until the Day of Christ’s Judgment of human works. Are you disappointed that nothing here teaches that God “sovereignly” keeps the saints persevering in faith regardless of such considerations as Paul has generously ladled out in this passage? Then you may have gotten bulldozed by human traditions that actually provide less comfort than they are usually touted to have. But I quite understand. You still need a clincher:

2 Corinthians 8:6-12

6So that we entreat Titus that, just as he undertakes before, thus also should he be completing in you this graciousness also. 7But, even as you are superabounding in everything—in faith and word and knowledge and all diligence and the love that flows out of you into us—that you may be superabounding in this graciousness also. 8I am not saying this as an injunction, but, through the diligence of others, testing also the genuineness of this love of yours. 9For you know the graciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, being rich, because of you he became poor, that you, by his poverty, should be rich. 10And in this I am giving an opinion, for this is expedient for you, who, for a year past, undertake before, not only the doing but the willing also. 11Yet now complete the doing also, so that, even as the eagerness to will, thus also may be the completion, out of what you have. 12For if eagerness lies before, it is most acceptable according to whatever one may have, not according to what he has not.

A host of other Scriptures reinforce this same doctrine in similar language and in spades: Romans 15:13-14, Galatians 5:10, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, 2 Thessalonians 3:4-5, Hebrews 6:7-10, Revelation 2:2-6.

This survey of the usage and fuller contexts of horizo and prohorizo hopefully makes clear that these terms cannot validly contribute to some speculatively spun “doctrine of predestination.” The first of these terms was a common household word in ancient Greek. And although the second of these is almost exclusively attested from the New Testament, neither can be commandeered systematically or woodenly to establish some arcane doctrine concerning “the sovereignty of God” (an expression, incidentally, that never occurs in Scripture!). They simply convey that the Creator likewise (“like” human beings!) can make long-term plans to act in history—in this case redemptively and with intimate knowledge of how his creatures tend to react. This is far different from some full-scale elaboration of a “doctrine” about a “divine sovereignty” that pre-determines every motion in the universe (as the Westminster Confession of Faith would have us believe)—which is not only contrary to the plain meaning of Biblical Scripture taken as a whole, but also contrary to the universal (“catholic”) teaching of the orthodox early church on the subject. The ante-Nicene churches quite uniformly emphasized what has somewhat confusingly been translated “free-will,” but literally means “self-authorization” (autexousiotes), in other words, authority over our selves and our personal faculties—quite plausibly a subcategory of the sovereignty, authority, and dominion over our earthly habitat bequeathed to our fore-parents. This is an ineradicable characteristic of all who have been created in God’s image. God evidently is no iconoclast when it concerns his own image!

Much more might be said concerning the historical theology of this contentious topic, especially the gnostic roots of “predestination,” traceable from John Calvin and Martin Luther, et al, back to Augustine’s early influence from Manichaeism, as well as via his mentor Ambrose, an ardent devotee of the Jewish philosopher/theologian Philo of Alexandria, among whose formative contemporaries was the Jewish Essene sect, which was predestinarian as well. When push came to shove in his famous pitched battle with Pelagius and his associates, Augustine seems to have reverted to such prevalent pre-Christian influences (not entirely abandoned) of his theologizing—not a happy turn in Western theology, and exceedingly auspicious of further corruptions. Nor did Augustine ultimately repent of his view of predestination so as to include it among his end-of-life Retractations. However, enlarging on such considerations must be left for another time.

God’s overwhelming favor to Christ at his resurrection and ascension came as his public answer to the egregious abuse done him at his cross. We might even say (with qualifications) that his cross was the chief cause of his resurrection and that without it God’s lavish favor to Christ—and through him to us—could never have flowed! Among other factors we need to grasp that without a public injustice of that magnitude, Christ’s resurrection would have been relegated to a merely private, virtually non-attested episode that could easily have gotten ‘buried’ amid the onrush of more mundane public events. (In sad fact, the atoning significance of Christ’s Resurrection has gotten buried anyway, and Paul’s Gospel was indeed largely forgotten already quite early in church history.) This event had to be a ‘big deal’…but not so big that it could not be denied or ridiculed or reviled by those who prefer the darkness to the light. For God does not desire coerced obedience but filial obedience. He wants legitimate daughters and sons after the pattern of Jesus. Volunteers, not draftees! This means that personal choice/preference (a reflex of our being pressed in God’s own mold) is essential in the execution even of God’s own more original, transcendent, and universal authority. Thus God generously allowed a measure of “plausible deniability” as a release valve from the potential charge of naked coercion. God decided to run a handicap race and give mortals (after all!) fair wiggle-room for authentic volition during their ephemeral tenure under the sun. Whatever advantage he may have lost as a “despot,” he more than regained as an ingenuous, independent, and impartial character witness. And as could be expected, given a fair amount of mortal freedom, sinful humans always fail to achieve the credit/glory of God’s desire, nevertheless, Jesus did stick to the Script and won the gold for his entire team regardless! Three cheers for God!!! Yaaay team!

Concluding Thoughts

It has doubtless dawned on many a gentle reader at a number of points in this biblical review—for some gradually, for others more swiftly—that “predestination” is not only not an authentic New Testament doctrine, but it is superfluous and worse: vicious in its very tendency. It may seem to rank as one of those further “points” of Calvinism that saint Arminius was not permitted to live to articulate separately. In truth, it was the very first of his controversies and led to the unraveling of all the others. Some scholars may simply range it under the rubric of “Unconditional Election,” and leave it at that. However, it seems to me it deserves a categorical “Point” of its own. But that shuffling may be of little consequence. It is of more importance that we keep in mind that although God alone is the judge of John Calvin and his successors, God gives us the job of judging Calvin’s theology. Let us undertake our task with as much clarity and charity as we can muster, confessing that Scripture alone must be our ultimate norm, let the chips fall where they may.

(For the stimulus to write this paper, I wish to acknowledge discussions with my daughter Marie, who was drawn into the perennial issue by a theology course in the fall semester of 2008 at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.)

Nov. 24-26, 29-Dec. 10, 26-27, 2008; revised Aug. 9, 2009, May 26, 2014, April 31, May 4-5, 8, 14, 16-19, 21-23, 25-31, June 1, 3, 11, 2017


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Filed under Calvinism, predestination, The Atonement

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