I believe in predestination...

…yet I’m still an Arminian. I’ll explain why in a moment. For too long divisions have existed in the Christian faith over minor points of doctrine; predestination has been one of those points. These divisions have run deep and wide in many ways and have seen Christians belittle, defame and even kill one another over differing beliefs. When we behave in such a manner we fail to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3). For me, this is a much graver error than whether we affirm this doctrine or that. The fact of the matter is that for both Calvinists and Arminians we are both attempting to answer the same question:

“Why is it that some people respond to the gospel message and others do not?”


Whilst we come to different conclusions with our answers, there is still unity in the question. There is unity in us both seeking God in prayer, Bible study, and theological reflection to wrestle with this problem. The fact is, this is an eternal mystery, and while I find more satisfaction in the Arminian explanation compared to a Calvinist one, I still do not pretend that I am right and a Calvinist answer is wrong. Like two witnesses standing on opposite sides of a car accident, each side will never be able to give a “complete” account of this, or any, doctrinal statement. Even more so if we refuse to engage in dialogue about it.

For Arminians the problem, as I see it, is this; when we read the two passages (and yes, there’s only two) that use the term “predestined” (Ephesians 1 and Romans 8) we apply what I call an “editorial hermeneutic”. That is, we mentally delete the word “predestined” or “elected” so that it fits with our system of thought. This is wrong. We do not form Scripture, it forms us. We do not apply our system of theology and make the Scriptures fit with it, the Scriptures are the Word of God and we listen to the Spirit speaking through them and our theology is formed through that process. This is why, in The Salvation Army, our first doctrine affirms that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the divine rule of Christian faith and practice. Period. So how do we need to change our system of theology to include predestination within it? Well, in fact we don’t really. We just need to recapture historical Arminianism which has always had a place for predestination.

You see when the “Remonstrants” who presented the five points of contention to the Synod of Dort in the early 1600’s (which incidentally is how the “Five Points of Calvinism” TULIP came about – in response to the “Five Points of Arminianism”) they included an understanding of predestination called "conditional predestination". Conditional predestination suggests that God predestines those who, in grace-enabled faith, respond to the gospel message. This is a “corporate” predestination (the “faithful” are saved, the “unfaithful” are not), compared to the “individual” predestination of Calvinism (this “person” is saved by God's decree, that “person” is not). The “condition” of predestination in Arminianism is a grace-enabled faith response to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (“how” we are enabled to respond in this way is a discussion for another day). This understanding is a positive understanding of this doctrine. It enables Arminians to read the passages concerned without mentally deleting those words which they do not like. So as an Arminian, I gladly say that “I believe in predestination.”

There is yet a more important point, though. Read both the Ephesians 1:3-6 and Romans 8:29-30. In both instances (and remember these are the only time the term “predestined” is used) it is in reference to being predestined to holiness (“holy and blameless” and “conformed to the likeness of his Son”). Rarely, if ever, when discussions take place in regard to predestination do I hear this mentioned. This is good news. This is why I believe we need to recapture a positive use of “predestination” terminology within Arminian theology, and particularly in the “Wesleyan” tradition because predestination is about holiness, not just salvation/justification. Remember, “it is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). So if I could summarise a Wesleyan-Arminian understanding of predestination it would be this:
God predestined those who respond by His grace, through faith, to the Gospel message to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, holy and blameless in his sight. It is God’s will that his people be sanctified.

Comments

  1. I respect you comments but how do you explain Romans 9 where it clearly says that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion? And before the twins were born and had done anything good or bad it is said that Jacob God loved and Esau I have hated? Just curious what a person who believes in pre-destination but is not a calvinist would say....

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  2. Hi "Smoky"...

    Thanks for your question. I appreciate you taking the time to firstly read my post and then leave your question.

    For me, I try and read Romans 9 in a larger context. Clearly verse 15 is difficult reconcile with an Arminian understanding of salvation/justification. However, looking at chapters 9 and 10 as a whole I think that Paul is wrestling with the relationship that his own people, the people of Israel (v.3-4), the chosen ones, and the Gentiles who were now coming to faith in Jesus Christ, now have. Under the old covenant the Israelites were the ones previously "chosen by God" and this by God's choosing (v15) "Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of law, the temple worship and the promises" (v4).

    Then later Paul asks the question "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it." (v30-31)

    I see this (and the verses in between these two quotes) as Paul wrestling with this difficult problem.

    Then I go on to read chapter 10, in the light of this problem, and read these words "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (v9). Further "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (v13 quoting Joel 2:32).

    I interpret this as Paul's solution to the problem. Under the old covenant the Israelites were God's chosen people. Under the new covenant, God has opened the doors to those outside of Israel (the Gentiles), putting the word "near them," in their "mouths" and "hearts" (v8).

    I think this is a fair interpretation of the text, and consistent with other Scripture as well.

    Again, I don't assume that I'm correct, or that this is the only solution to this problem. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    What I do find amusing is that, as I open my Bible, Romans 9:15 (one of the key texts for Calvinism) and Romans 10:13 (one of the key texts for Arminianism) both appear before me at once. I think there's something to be learned from that. As Wesley himself would say, "I'm a hair's breadth from Calvinism."

    Thanks
    Adam

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  3. I appreciate your humbleness in your response...not something one sees much in a debate...it shows your maturity. I guess I am a die hard calvinist and I stand firm on my beliefs that NONE is righteous no not one NONE SEEK GOD Romans 3 10-18. John 6:44 says that NO ONE can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. So in light of these scriptures I think that He puts it in His elect (those who are pre-destined) to call on His name. If it was left up to us to call on His name without Him drawing us to Himself we never would. All throughout scripture you will see God always comes to the people-- He chooses them. Look at all the Apostles and ecspecially Paul Jesus came to them and told them to follow Him. And we know that there is no good in us to want to obey and follow Him without Him putting it in us first because there is no one who is good except God Himself. Philippians 1:6 says That HE who BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN YOU will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. We don't begin the good work in us by inviting Jesus into our hearts as some would have us to believe it says very clearly that HE began the good work in us. May He recieve all glory and honor for it. I look forward to hearing from you futher. Again I respect your thoughts and opinions it looks as though you think a lot about why you believe what you believe instead of just believeing something because someone told you to and that is a testimony that you seek the truth and I respect that...

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  4. There's quite a deal of irony having a Spurgeon quote beside your Arminian ideas, Adam!

    I warm to your comments about scripture forming us. May we all read God's Word, with this burnt on the back of our brains!

    It seems to me that if a condition is placed on predestination like you have outlined, or if predestination is conditional on foreknowledge (the sort of foreknowledge that is just knowing in advance - not my understanding of the word in scripture), then we are ascribing folly to the Almighty and impoverishing the great comfort of predestination. Because you end up with the curious idea that God is planning something that He already knows is going to happen anyway.... the "foreknowledge" or the "condition"

    I think Smoky Mountain is saying that your context must be even bigger than chapters 9 and 10. I think Paul is wrestling with the one issue as it presents itself to Jews and Gentiles (perhaps in different ways, but still the one issue) God makes people right with Himself through what Jesus has done - an act of absolute grace... unconditional... not dependent on our faith but rather on Jesus' faith - Romans 3; Galatians 2. i.e. the faith of Jesus, not faith in Jesus.

    I think Rom 10:13 just states the obvious, based on Rom 8:29-30 & 9:15 i.e. those who "call" on him and are "saved" have been foreknown, predestined, called, justified, sanctified etc.

    When you say that the condition of predestination is "God-enabled", I get a little confused! Is "condition" really the right word here? If you are saying that God brings it all to pass - the purpose, the plan and the means (Eph 1:11), then I think you are closer to Calvinism than a hair's breadth!

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