A friend recently asked me what I personally believe about predestination. His confusion was that because, according to him, it seems that everyone has a different version of predestination. In some sense I agree, there are multiple views, yet I believe they can easily be narrowed down to only a few. Any other differences are only based on semantics and the way we use words, not an actual difference in ideas. Calvin, whose name is often closely associated with the idea of predestination said it is a “baffling question,”. He also wrote that “if anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit.” As with many other doctrines, a lighthearted or careless approach can be dangerous. So let’s review the different ways people view predestination. We shall start with the most “harsh” type of predestination and work our way down. I shall try to keep this as simple as I can without losing important details. (Fortunately for us I will avoid supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.)
Predestination (pr-dst-nshn) n.
Combination of two word groups, “pre” and “destination”/”destiny.” The idea that one’s destination/destiny is predetermined beforehand. Example: If I decide to go to New York, that is my destination and I because have decided beforehand to make the trip, I have predestined myself to go to New York. Also, if I decide beforehand (pre) to take my cat to the vets office (destination), then I have ‘predestined’ him to go to the vet
1. Equal ultimacy (hypercalvinism) predestination
Simply put, “equal ultimacy” says that: Everyone is neutral, and God uses the same equal ultimate force to pull some into good works/heaven and push others into sin/hell, all while ignoring their will. The idea is that people are nice and neutral, they want to become good Christians, and instead God gives no chances. Some people he actively sanctifies making them holy and sending them to heaven. Others he actively demonizes, makes into sinners, and actively pushes them to hell. In both cases he uses an equal amount of force, in both cases people are neutral before, in both cases people don’t follow their desires or sometimes are said to have no personality or will. In both cases God forces everyone and that’s it. Chances are, if you have never heard of predestination or Calvinism, you equate Calvinism with “equal ultimacy.” One of my greatest challenges since embracing the reformed theology has been dealing with this strange position. There is not a Calvinist in the world who has ever believed in “equal ultimacy.” Yet every single day I meet people who accuse Calvinists of believing it. So every day I repeat again, “this is a theoretical position, no one believes it, it’s a caricature.” The biggest criticism with this view is that is stupid and horrendous and no one in their right mind believes it.
2. Calvinist double predestination
Most people who have heard of the phrase “double predestination” have probably assumed it’s the same as “equal ultimacy” above. This is very incorrect. All Calvinists do not believe in equal ultimacy and do believe in single or double predestination. In my opinion, once we have clarified we are not for “equal ultimacy,” the double vs single predestination is only a game of semantics and words. True historic double predestination simply means this: All freely chose to disregard God and hate him. Then God predestined to save ‘some’ from that sin they chose, and predestined to pass over ‘others.’ Salvation is not based on anything we did or could do but of Grace. This first group is called “the elect,” and the second group is called “the reprobate.” In double predestination everybody freely chose sin and enmity with God. Everyone daily chooses to remain slaves to sin because they love sin and hate Jesus. No one ever wants to repent (John 6:44; Rom 3:11). So Jesus actively pulls some away from sin, and passively does not act on others. As an example lets use Luke 8:10, Jesus says His disciples can only understand Him because it has been given to them and to others it has not. Here God is not actively preventing the Pharisees from joining Him against their will, no, they actually want to stay away. He predestined to passively let them have what they desire in their evil hearts. Others, He predestined to save from that evil desire. The biggest criticism with this view is that it seems to downplay personal responsibility. “If I can’t be good, how can God punish me” is a common question. Calvinists often answer this by pointing out that we sin by choice, will, and desire, not against our will, choice, and desire. We all freely choose to sin, no one forces us. So for those that are not elect, it’s not a matter of “I want to repent but can’t,” instead it’s “I hate God and I really want to sin.” Having no free will is not an issue of “I can’t choose the right thing” it always an issue of “I sin because I want to and I like it.”
3. Calvinist single predestination
In my opinion (and many others whom I learned from) single predestination is the same as double, just using different language. Primarily because when people hear “double predestination” they often assume it means “equal ultimacy.” But theoretically what single predestination means is as follows: All freely chose to disregard God and hate him Then God predestined to save ‘some’ from that sin they chose. Salvation is not based on anything we did or could do but of Grace. If you noticed, the only thing missing from the double predestination above is “God passed over others.” The basic premise of this single predestination is that God saved the elect and the rest just live their lives and will get what they deserve. Often the only noticeable difference between single and double is that supporters of double predestination would talk about God having a dual purpose for actively choosing to save the elect and passively choosing to allow the reprobate to sin as they please. Conversely, proponents of single predestination will say God’s only purpose was to choose the elect. I am here, since I think both single and double say the same thing in a different way.
3. Historic Arminian predestination
Early Arminians understood the word predestination was in the Bible. So thus they devised a way that predestination and libertarian free will could be true. This is: All freely chose to disregard God and hate him. Then God looked into the future to see who would one day of free will choose Him and then, as a result, predestined to save only those. Salvation is based on two things, Gods grace AND us having a better free will response to God than our neighbor. This view does good in that it engages the Bible and deals with a word like predestination. I once talked with a few pastors who didn’t believe in predestination, then upon showing them a few passages (Rom 8:29; Eph 1:5) one quickly changed his mind and formulated something similar to the “historic Arminianism” response. Philosophically this view could work. Yet, it requires so much interpretive gymnastics to twist what the Bible says about predestination that, I consider this view very lacking. While Eph 1:5 and 1:11 says we were predestined “according to the purpose of [God’s] will” this view says the opposite, that we were predestined according to our personal will. Also Paul in many places says we are not saved by works or merit, yet this view would say we are saved ONLY because of our ‘merit’ because “God saw that we would respond better than our neighbors.” In addition, one of the biggest blows is that this view is not in the Bible. There is nothing that says God chose us based on our good response in the whole Bible. Nothing at all.
4. Corporate predestination
This is my favorite non Calvinist view (it is one of the two common Arminian views). It is that: All freely chose to disregard God and hate him. Then God predestined to save a group through Christ. This view doesn’t deal with predestining individuals but predestining salvation in general. So basically whenever the Bible speaks of predestination, it only refers to the fact that God predestined to save people through Jesus before the beginning of time. According to this view, individuals are not chosen one-by-one, instead God chose to have “a church” or “a bride” for Jesus before the beginning of time. This view avoids dealing with all the debates of Calvinism, and the hermeneutical gymnastics of Historic Arminianism, and espouses an attractive position. I like it. God chooses a “group,” called His bride, and then whoever joins this group is his. The biggest criticism leveled against corporate election is that it deals with an abstract “empty set” and is impersonal. We can compare it to an empty school bus. In historic Arminianism and Calvinism, God chooses individual people to put onto this school bus. He has personal seats reserved for all his students, whom he knows by name. You have personal faith, a personal relationship with Jesus, personal forgiveness from sin, and are personally predestined for salvation. In corporate election, God only chooses the empty school bus but not people. Some scholars argue that salvation through the cross is about Jesus paying for individual people’s sins, not an abstract atonement for a group without individuals. Another way of putting it, Jesus did not die to save an empty school bus, he died for individual people that get onto the school bus. There are also criticism leveled because the predestination passages often use language that refers to individuals (1 Thess 1:4-5)
5. Spiritual gifts predestination
This is a very unique view, that some people I have met invented. Quite frankly, I doubt anyone who is scholarly actually holds to this, and I have not found them. This view, as presented to me by numerous people over the years says: God doesn’t predestine people for salvation; they choose that themselves. God’s predestination only determines what spiritual gifts you have. This view is held by a few Arminians/Semi-Pelagians, though is popular only in “folk religion” type churches. The primary criticism of this view is that the Bible never says predestination/election is about gifting, while it does say it has to do with salvation. Paul says “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” not “He predestined us to have different gifts” (Eph 1:5). In fact the first two chapters in Ephesians are all about salvation, and not about spiritual gifts.
6. Ignorant-ism (no predestination )
This is my favorite view to deal with. It’s very simple, it goes like this: “I don’t believe in predestination, the Bible doesn’t teach it!” The simplest way to deal with this view is to bring up Bible passages. Of course, in my experience, those who are in this position don’t like Bible passages. There are many serious Arminians who love the Bible, honor Jesus, and carefully deal with Scripture. The people of this view are not them. Just last week a gentleman emailed me accosting me for believing in the horrors of predestination. I simply responded with Bible passages that used that word. His response was anger and condemnation. I responded politely again, with more passages, saying he ought to have some view of predestination, whatever it is. More condemnation. Here is the main criticism of ignorantism, the Scripture talks of election and predestination in nearly every New Testament book. Mat 11:25-26, Mat 22:14,Mat 24:24, Mat 24:31;Mark 4:10-12; Luke 18:7; John 5:21, John 6:37–39, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19; Acts 4:27–28, Acts 13:17, Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29–30, Rom 8:33, Rom 9:15-33, Rom11:14-15; 1 Cor 1:27–28; Eph 1:3–12; Phil 1:29; Col 3:12; 1 Thess 1:4–5; 2 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; James 1:18; Jude 1:4; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10; Rev 13:8