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Predestination (Calvinism)

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The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is a doctrine of Calvinism which deals with the question of the control God exercises over the world. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God "freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass."[1] The second use of the word "predestination" applies this to the salvation, and refers to the belief that God appointed the eternal destiny of some to salvation by grace, while leaving the remainder to receive eternal damnation for all their sins, even their original sin. The former is called "unconditional election", and the latter "reprobation". In Calvinism, men must be predestined and effectually called (regenerated/born again) unto faith by God before they will even wish to believe or wish to be justified.

Confessional statements

On predestination, the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) states:

We believe that all the posterity of Adam, being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without respect to their works: Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves. (Art. XVI)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1643) states:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected . . . are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power. through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His Sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. (Chap. III — Articles I, III, VI and VII)

Double predestination

Calvinistic predestination is sometimes referred to as "double predestination."[2] This is the view that God chose who would go to heaven, and who to hell, and that his decision is infallibly to come to pass. This point of view simultaneously denies that God is the Author of Evil, but the issue is a very difficult point of the doctrine of predestination. The difference between elect and reprobate is not in themselves, all being equally unworthy, but in God's sovereign decision to show mercy to some, to save some and not others. It is called double predestination because it holds that God chose both whom to save and whom to damn, as opposed to single predestination which contends that though he chose whom to save, he did not choose whom to damn.

Reprobation: active decree, passive foreordination

Reformed Calvinists emphasise the active nature of God's decree to choose those foreordained to eternal wrath, yet at the same time the passive nature of that foreordination.

This is possible because most Reformed Calvinists hold to a Infralapsarianism view of God's decree. In that view, God, before Creation, in His mind, first decreed that the Fall would take place, before decreeing election and reprobation. So God actively chooses whom to condemn, but because He knows they will have a sinful nature, the way He foreordains them is to simply let them be (He doesn't need to do anything) - this is sometimes called "preterition."[3] Therefore this foreordination to wrath is passive in nature (unlike God's active predestination of His elect where He needs to overcome their sinful nature).

Equal ultimacy

The WCF uses different words for the act of God's election and reprobation: "predestinated" and "foreordained" respectively. This suggests that the two do not operate in the same way. The term "equal ultimacy" is sometimes used of the view that the two decrees are symmetrical: God works equally to keep the elect in heaven and the reprobate out of heaven. R. C. Sproul argues against this position on the basis that it implies God "actively intervenes to work sin" in the lives of the reprobate.[4] This view is sometimes erroneously referred to as "double predestination", on which see above.



Historically, Christian Universalist thinkers and others have criticized Calvinist predestination on the grounds that it reduces the great majesty and sovereignty of God. Such opponents believe that an omniscient, omnipotent, and all-loving Creator would not fail to save all of humanity.

Universalists argue that God would be motivated by His love for His creation to save all souls from eternal damnation. They posit that there is no Hell, Satan, or sin that lies beyond the redeeming power of God's love and the sacrifice of Jesus. Continuing this line of reasoning, Universalists argue that, having purposed to save everyone, God, as the omnipotent Creator, shall certainly succeed. Hosea Ballou wrote that a God who did not want to, or was unable to save everyone, was not a God worth worshipping.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis wrote that a God who does not love everyone would be a God who is not all good. If He was not all good then He could not follow the Moral Law that He made and is inert in all mankind, which Lewis believed proves the existence of a God.

Calvinists agree that God is sovereign, and will save all those whom he has purposed to save, and damn those he has purposed to damn. Calvinist theologians however, along with the majority of Christian theologians from other traditions, believe that Scripture clearly indicates that not all will, in fact, be saved. They point to another characteristic of a sovereign God: his divine justice. Calvinists contend that God extends mercy and grace to whom He will according to His plan (Romans 8), and administers justice (which, by its very nature is the punishment for sin, and thus in every way good and holy in concordance with the character of God) to all others.

Wesleyan and Arminian

Arminianism is the theological stance of Jacob Arminius and the movement which stemmed from him. It claims to view Christian doctrine much as the pre-Augustinian fathers did and as did the later John Wesley. In several basic ways it differs from the Augustinian-Lutheran-Calvinist tradition.

This form of Protestanism arose in the United Netherlands shortly after the "alteration" from Roman Catholicism had occurred in that country. It stresses Scripture alone as the highest authority for doctrines. And it teaches that justification is by grace alone, there being no merit in our faith that occasions justification, since it is only through prevenient grace that fallen humanity can exercise that faith.

Arminianism is a distinct kind of Protestant theology for several reasons. One of its distinctions is its teaching on predestination. It teaches predestination, since the Scripture writers do, but it understands that this pre-decision on God's part is to save the ones who repent and believe. Thus its view is called conditional predestination, since the predetermination of the destiny of individuals is based on God's foreknowledge of the way in which they will either freely reject Christ or freely accept him.

Arminius defended his view most precisely in his commentary on Romans 9, Examination of Perkins' Pamphlet, and Declaration of Sentiments. He argued against supralapsarianism, popularized by John Calvin's son-in-law and Arminius's teacher at Geneva, Theodore Beza, and vigorously defended at the University of Leiden by Francis Gomarus, a colleague of Arminius. Their view was that before the fall, indeed before man's creation, God had already determined what the eternal destiny of each person was to be. Arminius also believed that the sublapsarian unconditional predestination view of Augustine and Martin Luther is unscriptural.

This is the view that Adam's sin was freely chosen but that, after Adam's fall, the eternal destiny of each person was determined by the absolutely sovereign God. In his Declaration of Sentiments (1608) Arminius gave twenty arguments against supralapsarianism, which he said applied also to sublapsarianism. These included such arguments as that the view is void of good news; repugnant to God's wise, just, and good nature, and to man's free nature; "highly dishonorable to Jesus Christ"; "hurtful to the salvation of men"; and that it "inverts the order of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (which is that we are justified after we believe, not prior to our believing). He said the arguments all boil down to one, actually: that unconditional predestination makes God "the author of sin."

Connected with Arminius's view of conditional predestination are other significant teachings of "the quiet Dutchman." One is his emphasis on human freedom. Here he was not Pelagian, as some have thought. He believed profoundly in original sin, understanding that the will of natural fallen man is not only maimed and wounded, but that it is entirely unable, apart from prevenient grace, to do any good thing. Another teaching is that Christ's atonement is unlimited in its benefits. He understood that such texts as "he died for all" (2 Cor. 5:15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:14; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2) mean what they say, while Puritans such as John Owen and other Calvinists have understood that the "all" means only all of those previously elected to be saved. A third view is that while God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Matt. 18:14), saving grace is not irresistible, as in classical Calvinism. It can be rejected.

In Arminius's view believers may lose their salvation and be eternally lost. Quoting as support of this position such passages as 2 Pet. 1:10, "Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall," Arminians still seek to nourish and encourage believers so that they might remain in a saved state. While Arminians feel that they have been rather successful in disinclining many Calvinists from such views as unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace, they realize that they have not widely succeeded in the area of eternal security. R T Shank's Life in the Son and H O Wiley's 3 - volume Christian Theology make a good scriptural case against eternal security from within the Arminian tradition, but the position has been unconvincing to Calvinists generally.

A considerable problem to Arminians is that they have often been misrepresented. Some scholars[who?] have said that Arminianism is Pelagian, is a form of theological liberalism, and is syncretistic. It is true that one wing of Arminianism picked up Arminius's stress on human freedom and tolerance toward differing theologies, becoming latitudinarian and liberal. Indeed the two denominations in Holland that issued from Arminius are largely such today. But Arminians who promote Arminius's actual teachings and those of the great Arminian John Wesley, whose view and movement have sometimes been called "Arminianism of fire," have disclaimed all those theologically left associations. Such Arminians largely comprise the eight million or so Christians who today constitute the Christian Holiness Association (the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, etc.).

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church calls predestination God's Plan and states that this plan also includes free will for mankind. Catechism of the Catholic Church #600 says:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: 'In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.' [Acts 4:27-28; cf. Ps 2:1-2] For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.[cf. Mt 26:54; Jn 18:36; 19:11; Acts 3:17-18]

Unitarian and free thought

One criticism of predestination is that it denies the individual their own free will. Free thinkers and Unitarians tend to ask questions such as: If God is choosing our path for us, then what choices do we have? Moreover what do our choices matter? God demands that we worship him of our own free will, but if we're predestined to damnation or salvation then how could we possibly have free will at all?

Another criticism is ethical, claiming that the Calvinist view of predestination inevitably leads into moral nihilism. If one's actions, deeds, faith or anything initiated by him are worth nil in the eyes of God and if the human being cannot influence his eventual final depository in any manner by himself, then what is the point of repentance and living according to God's will? Wouldn't it be far more plausible to just obey your animalistic instincts, lusts, and desires, since the outcome will be the same anyway? The traditional Calvinist answer is that God's irresistible grace will make his elect live in a Godly manner and not vice versa.


Calvinists deny that their scheme is a form of determinism and instead uphold the free agency and moral responsibility of the individual. They do, however, hold that the will is in bondage to sin and therefore unable to actualize its true freedom. Hence, an individual cannot choose to trust God because his or her will is enslaved to evil, which is antithetical to God who is good. Since Calvinists further hold that salvation is by grace apart from good works (sola gratia) and since they view making a choice to trust God as an action or work, they maintain that the act of choosing cannot be the difference between salvation and damnation, as in the Arminian scheme. Rather, God must first free the individual from his or her enslavement to sin to a greater degree than in Arminianism, and then the regenerated heart naturally chooses the good. The individual does not cooperate but is freed and irresistibly follows God.

See also


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