This blog is barely a week old and I’m already doing it…talking about predestination.
Well, the truth is I’m not just talking about predestination out of nowhere, but rather because it was a part of MPC’s first Lenten study class.
During Lent we are reading Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” I really appreciate Hamilton’s book and thinking on this subject. As he says in the introduction, half truths hurt people and push people away from God. And while Hamilton is a very thoughtful Methodist, his knowledge of Calvin and Reformed Theology…needs help.
So that’s how I got talking about predestination and what I want to recap for you here. Go ahead and bookmark this post for future reference.
First, while Calvin and predestination are frequently tied together, predestination wasn’t something that Calvin spent a lot of time explaining. In fact, Calvin referred to predestination as both a “horrible” and “dreadful” decree. The time Calvin does give it in is writing is the context of God’s sovereignty which is what all of Calvin’s theology gets back to, God is God—you are not.
Here is a defintion of predestination that I find helpful:
“Predestination—or election, is the belief or doctrine that God has chosen some persons for the gift of salvation. It is not to be confused with providence, that is, God’s governance of all things, not with fate or philosophical determinism….
Predestination is a difficult point for modern Christians. Yet it is an important guarantee of the gratuitousness of salvation. Also, when one considers that doctrinal formulations are human ways of understanding the mysteries of divine revelation, it may well be best to accept the intention of the doctrine—affirmation of God’s gracious favor bestowed upon the undeserving, and set aside its negative implications as unbiblical. Further, it should be remembered that predestination rules out human merit, not freedom; God’s will is exercised through secondary causes and does not compel the human will to any end to which it has not freely assented.” Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, 180.
Notice that God’s sovereignty as expressed through election doesn’t negate human freedom, only good works and self-righteousness.
Second, the reason to emphasize predestination at all was because during the Reformation as people left the Catholic Church, their salvation was being questioned. The Catholic Church, they had always been told was the keeper and decider of salvation, predestination was a way point to scripture (and tradition—St. Augustine) and say unequivocally, from the foundations of the earth your salvation has been assured—not by your goodness but by God’s goodness and the church may change, God’s goodness never fails.
Third, please do not mistaken Calvinism for Calvin. If someone tries to talk to you about Calvinism and they start using acronyms like TULIP, turn and walk away. Any theology that doesn’t start with God’s sovereignty expressed in grace and justice is straight up Bizarro-Calvin.
Finally, don’t take my word for it, do your own work. What does scripture say about predestination? Read Calvin for yourself. Here’s one of my favorite books on Calvin. It is very engaging and accessible.
How does this explanation compare to what you’ve heard about predestination elsewhere? Do you think there is any value to reclaiming predestination as a viable doctrine today?
“Hold fast to what is good. Have Courage”