Friday, July 05, 2002

Double Predestination

In an earlier post, I talked about the Calvinistic view of predestination. To reiterate:

Before the foundation of time, God chose certain (future) men (and women) to be saved. Not for anything that he foresaw that these particular individuals (the “elect”) would do that was meritorious, but solely for His own pleasure in fulfillment of His perfect will. He decided to show mercy on some. The rest receive justice, i.e., the eternal damnation that all sinners deserve.

The question on the table is: Does this not imply a double predestination, whereby God predestines some to salvation and some to damnation?

The answer is an unequivocal: no.

Double predestination would mean that God looks at all men (before they were ever born) and says to some: “To you I will impute a saving righteousness” and to others “to you I will impute a damning evil”.

This would make God the originator of the sin in the reprobate, which is unthinkable. Even worse, when God punished men for sin that he placed in their hearts—well that would be an unjust, unloving, mean and capricious god. Not our God. Maybe Allah, but not our God.

Sometimes it is said that Calvinists teach this form of double predestination. While it might be that some mistakenly believe it, it is not a component of orthodox reformed doctrine.

Mark Shea refers to an article, written by his friend James Akin, in which he (as a Roman Catholic) writes:

Although a Catholic may agree with unconditional election [predestination], he may not affirm "double-predestination," a doctrine Calvinists often infer from it. This teaching claims that in addition to electing some people to salvation God also sends others to damnation.

The alternative to double-predestination is to say that while God predestines some people, he simply passes over the remainder. They will not come to God, but it is because of their inherent sin, not because God damns them. This is the doctrine of passive reprobation, which Aquinas taught.

My only disagreement with this passage is the characterization that Calvinists “often” infer double predestination. It is certainly not “often”-- and it is a mistake, not an acceptable variant of Calvinism.

More important is the next paragraph in the Akin’s quote where he points out what the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas taught: the doctrine of passive reprobation wherein God simply does nothing in the hearts of the non-elect who then, because they are miserable fallen creatures, damn themselves.

This is in fact the Calvinistic position too. I have been in discussions over the last few days about the extent of the differences between the Reformed and Catholic views on Justification (see the comments sections in this post and this post if you are interested, assuming the comments feature is “temporarily in order”). Here, on the topic of double predestination, I am happy to report complete agreement between Reformed Protestants and, at the very least, Aquinas (whose theology, while held in high esteem, does not carry the force of infallibility. Catholics are allowed to agree with Aquinas but are not required to).

(Actually I do have another comment about Aikin's article, namely concerning the title: A Tiptoe through the TULIP. Gee -- never heard that one before.)

Why would anybody believe in double predestination?

The question should really be why would a well-intended scholar of the Bible make this mistake. Probably because some of the language reads as if God is doing something active in the reprobate:

2 "You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. 3 "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 7:2-3, NASB)

So it appears that God does something to Pharaoh’s heart (hardening) that will make Pharaoh more sinful--which would mean that God was in some sense the author of Pharaoh’s sin. This is not the case. God did not actively make Pharaoh more sinful, what He did was withhold a gift—the gift of Common Grace. Let me borrow from an earlier blog on this subject:

God gives to all men a measure of restraint. I don’t know all the reasons, but presumably one of them is to prevent us from self-destructing as a species. Here is where we disagree with the humanists: man is not intrinsically good, forced into evil by genetics or the environment. Man is intrinsically bad with wholesale degradation avoided only by God's [common] grace

God’s removal of this restraint, either gradually or dramatically, is the frightening process of having one’s heart hardened, the most famous biblical example being that of Pharaoh. However, anyone holding onto a particular sin, refusing to repent and seek divine assistance in combating it, also runs the terrible risk of having his heart hardened:

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. (Rom 1:14, NASB)


So, in summary, all men, because of our sinful nature, are destined to hell. God actively predestines some (the elect) for salvation, and actively works a transformation in their hearts. The unfortunate others are passed over and left to their own devices. There is no double predestination.

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