Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Monday, September 19, 2005

In Defense of Predestination Doctrine

Assuming the average person has the slightest idea what the word pre-destination concerns the term is likely to evoke in them images of an unflinching fate that is both unfair and demeaning. This is the opinion I held concerning the doctrine for the majority of my life. It was not until this past summer that I spent any serious time or effort in trying to completely understand the doctrine's true premise and all of its logical ramifications.

Most commonly associated with the theology of John Calvin and the reformed faith generally, predestination has slowly died away as a commonly held explanation of how God's Will interacts with the human will. It is uncommon, today, to find a true believer of this doctrine even in the faiths most heavily influenced by Calvin's teachings. My first study of the doctrine began with basic research into the conflicts between Calvinists and Arminians (opponents to pre-destination doctrine) in the 17th Century where I was able to gain a basic outline of the differing views. Next, I found some interesting arguments in Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Faith" that seemed to best articulate many of the Biblical bases for supporting pre-destination arguments. I then progressed to reading Jonathan Edwards' "Freedom of the Will"--quite possibly the definitive apology of predestination. After much thought and deliberation I came to the conclusion that based on both Biblical teachings and common sense deduction there was no way to deny that for all who believe in an all powerful God, predestination is the only logical explanation of how God's will interacts with our own. In what follows I will attempt to restate many of the reasons for my holding such a position and will refute some of the most commonly held misunderstandings concerning predestination.

To start let me define (in general and simple terms) what the Christian doctrine of predestination is:

Any system which teaches that God's decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of humanity through Jesus Christ is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.

How does one come to such an understanding of God's will acting out through the passage of history and in comparison to the human will?

For the Christian theologians who sought answers from the Word there were numerous verses supporting the doctrine:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
Ephesians 1:3-5

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the first born among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Romans 8:28-30

but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory;
1 Corinthians 2:7

"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Acts 4:27-28

In addition to this, predestination is the only framework in which God's sovereign will remained completely free and in charge of the outcome of both the world, generally, and of humanity in particular. From the Calvinist perspective God was all powerful, omniscient, and intimately involved in the world--as is the point of view purportedly held by most Christians even today. This belief came from the understanding of God's plan (salvation through Christ) as clearly shown from the beginning (from Genesis onward)--shown throughout all the Bible (seen especially in the Pentateuch where God brings forth the good out of the bad--and in the new testament see examples such as Judas's crime, which Jesus clearly knew of before it was committed). To take the contrary view, in their opinion, was to limit God's ability to see his plan through, and thus at most to believe only in a deistic god...which to many Calvinist's was no God at all. When one looks at the deist's god, he is devoid of any interaction following the act of creation. And if creation was all that made God God, then weren't we humans just as much gods in so far as we could create works of art, tools, ideas, and offspring? If it is argued that unlike us God is eternal...then aren't we humans through our decision to accept Christ also able to gain eternal life? For the more control humanity gives itself, the more closely we move toward placing ourselves in God's rightful position. So in many ways, this particular basis for the doctrine is heavily influenced by the particular attention placed on the complete sovereignty of God. Further, and in many ways most important from a sociological/psychological respect, holding such an opinion as concerns God's will vis-a-vis man's will is to completely humble one's self to the wishes of the Lord. It is to have complete trust in the Lord. It is to admit that we humans (even we the elect) have no reason for pride...for it is not any decision or act on our part which in any way leads to our own salvation but rather all glory is due God (complete reliance in Him for our salvation). To take pride in the fact that God has chosen you is to again edge closer to the view that there is something within you that makes you better and is in actuality closer to the persuasion of those who oppose the idea of pre-destination (for one is chosen not for what they have or what they have done but solely because of what they have been given and what has been done on their behalf).

Another justification for supporting pre-destination is the understanding that God is infinite and, being thus, does not experience time through the same limitations as we humans. If one believes that God is able to know the outcome of future events before they occur (or at least before we as humans can witness their occurrence) , then necessarily those events must occur (not just are likely to occur--but must occur). If this is the case then how can any of these necessary events also be contingent (especially contingent upon any sort of "free will" on humanity's part). And if these events must occur, how can we humans have any freedom in choosing that they not occur?

In addition to all of these arguments, one finds in Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will (NOTE: the title is also meant to speak towards the freedom of God's will not merely the subject of the human will) a dissection of what exactly is meant by human choice. As Edwards is able to lay out, many of the choices that opponents to predestination site as evidence of a free human will are admittedly affected by outside occurrences and events. This simple fact he demonstrates proves that there is no such thing as a completely free will (all our decisions are in some way affected by genetics-the innate, past occurrences, logical deduction...all of which Edwards argues must have an author). It is through this amalgamation of many antecedents that God is able to work his plan...directing with certainty which way an individual will act--what choice he or she will make. If one truthfully considers all examples of human choice, it is not difficult to see that the outside influences on the choice (by outside I also mean to include innate predispositions caused by the nature/nurture mixture--all authored by God) lead the notion of a truly "free will" down a long path towards absurdity. A truly free will would not be moved by any outside or innate (again the innate also being placed within by God, who is also from without) force, and not being malleable to any outside influence a truly free will would be no different than a will, which chose completely based on chance. To put it another way, if God is the creator of humanity and creation; and on the individual level He imbues His creatures with certain traits (physical and mental; psychological and biological) and can direct all of their outside experiences (through his direction of all daily occurrences) what then is left to make up a person's "free will"?

It is often argued, by many, that to hold to a view of predestination is to promote the notion that we should all sit back and do whatever...because if we have been chosen for salvation, then there is nothing we can do that will lead to our not being saved. This argument is true in part, but not for the reasons those in opposition to pre-destination believe. If one were able to know with certainty that God out of His mercy had chosen them for salvation, then just as certainly there would be nothing they could do to lead to their soul being lost. But the missing ingredient and what makes this only possible in the hypothetical is that unlike God, we humans cannot be certain. Being incapable of knowing who God, in his boundless will, has decided to save, we are left in the exact situation one would be if they lived as though their salvation depended at least in part on their own free will. For to say that God chooses the man is not to deny that the man makes a choice to only means that the choice man makes is not made by his free will. Certainly some people may take the view that a world in which pre-destination is truth is a world in which they are forever free to do as they please...but if we are to judge any idea based upon the perversions of that idea by those ignorant of its true import then we are left with no ideas to explain anything. But it is interesting to note that predestination is more in line with the notion that the final outcome is dependent upon certain antecedents (the need to have faith, to pray, etc..), than is the notion of a "free will." Because as was stated above a truly free will is nothing but a game of chance (otherwise it is affected/controlled by something outside itself...either the human--who is in turn affected by a multitude of things, or God directly) and if one's salvation--one's choosing Christ--is based solely on chance, then there is nothing that one need do in order to be saved for it is nothing more than a flip of the coin. That God might work out his plan through human acts and other antecendents is in no way denied by being our plight being predestined. Likewise, any objections to pre-destination based on a sense of it being unjust to punish a person who is not fully culpable in the determination of his own salvation is refuted by the same logic. Is it more just for one not to be saved based solely on the chance that his wholly free will landed on faith as opposed to unbelief? It is far more just, I argue, that such decisions be left to God... But this leads to another great topic for discussion which I will leave for another day, ie: What is meant by justice in the Calvinist world view?

Finally let me back track a bit. The debates surrounding pre-destination have led to vast conflicts (wars even) and major disagreements for centuries. In my defense of the doctrine of pre-destination it may appear that I am a militant Calvinist (which considering that Calvinism is identified by many history books as the militant form of Protestantism seems mighty scary) who believes he is incapable of being wrong. In response to this possible appearance I would say...I am only too aware of my imperfections when it comes to logical deductions and my ignorance when it comes to all there is to know. I understand that outside God no entity is capable of perfect knowledge and that therefore it is highly probable that I err in my beliefs. For this reason, I also readily accept the valuable contributions of all faiths (especially other Christian understandings) and feel that all faiths, to greater and lesser extents, provide humanity with a different perspective towards the same Truth. So if you don't believe in pre-destination or you belong to a faith traditionally hostile to this doctrine believe me when I say that I recognize your point of view's worth in the human endeavor to reach a higher understanding. It is just as necessary for the final outcome of which God has predestined as is the existence of a belief in pre-destination. If I am shown to be wrong I will gladly acknowledge my error and recant all that I have said...but if I am to be shown as being wrong let it be proven by scripture and common reason and not by attacks on my person or by the building up of straw men to tear down. For me to deny God’s absolute sovereignty over all his creation or to claim my own sovereignty in His realm is to deny my conscience. And in the famous words that Martin Luther proclaimed at Worms, “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

(Note: Luther is the founder of a different tradition which viewed the Truth from a different perspective, which denied the doctrine of pre-destination).


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