What’s the Deal with Predestination?
It was Reformation Leader John Calvin back in the 1500’s who really promoted the idea that God had an elect group of people who would be saved, and the rest would be left to suffer condemnation. This theory is known as predestination, and in 1618-1619 at The Synod of Dordt, it was affirmed as being the doctrine of salvation which is contained in the Bible. Calvin has been quoted as saying, “God preordained…a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.” Calvin’s theory caught fire in many of the early Reformed Churches. Among all the influential writers and reformers of the time, Calvin became the most pre-eminent and his whole body of doctrine became known as Calvinism.
There are five major points to Calvinism. These points are often represented by the acrostic T.U.L.I.P. The “T” stands for Total Depravity. Total Depravity is the idea that, because all of mankind is enslaved to sin no one is able to choose God on their own. Everyone is helpless spiritually, and it is impossible for ordinary person to understand the Gospel. Romans 5:12 is the piece of scripture often used to reiterate this point, which reads, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” The “U” represents a concept known as Unconditional Election. It is synonymous with Predestination. In its simplest form, Unconditional Election means that humanity has been divided into two groups: 1) The Elected, or those whom God has chosen to make Himself known to, and 2) The Ignorant, or those who will never know God and will, thus, spend eternity separated from Him. The “L” in Calvinism stands for Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. This is the belief that Jesus did not die on the cross for all mankind, but only for the sins of the elect. Matthew 26:28 is used to substantiate this idea. It reads, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” The operative word for the Calvinist in this passage is the word “many.” Calvinism argues that Jesus suffered and died only for those that God has chosen. The “I” in T.U.L.I.P. represents Irresistible Grace. Irresistible Grace is the belief that every human being that have been chosen by God for salvation will come to a knowledge of Him. Those whom He has elected will be unable to resist such the call of God. The Calvinist believes that John 6:44 conveys this idea: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” 1 Peter 5:10 is another piece of scripture employed to argue Irresistible Grace. It reads, ““After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Finally, the “P” is representative of The Perseverance of the Saints. This is simply the idea that everyone who has been chosen by God will remain in a saved state for eternity. God will continue a process of sanctification within them until they reach heaven. In other words, it is impossible for one who is saved to ever lose their salvation. John 6:39 is the signature verse for their argument: “This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”1
Understanding Calvinism requires one to tip-toe through the T.U.L.I.P. (Sorry. That was terrible. I know.). Not only that, it requires tip-toeing through the scriptures as well. While John Calvin’s theory may seem enlightening and well-devised, it is unfortunately unscriptural. Interpretation of God’s word must include a return to the original language, a consideration of the context and the audience, as well as the entire meaning of the passage or passages being considered. If John Calvin, and those who consider themselves Calvinists, would subject their theory to this type of examination they would see that the Bible simply doesn’t support it. There are just as many verses, in actuality more verses, that speak of the divine gift of free-will that all human beings have been endowed with. At the very least we have a contradiction within the Bible. Or, worse, we have a God contradicting Himself; a God that can’t make up His mind about who are saved who are lost. We, of course, know that this is not the case; therefore, how do we explain the doctrine of predestination and election?
Growing up I played a lot of basketball in my neighborhood. On any given day there would be 10 or more kids at the park or at a friend’s house down the street. As soon as I got home I would jump out of the car, almost as it was still rolling, and run down to join them. We would usually spend some time warming up; shooting around, talking and carrying on. Finally someone would say, “Let’s play!” That meant that it was time to pick teams. To decide who was on what team, we shot free throws. If there were 10 kids, then the first 5 to make a free throw were on one team against the 5 who did not. The criterion was established. One had to make a free throw. The moment the criterion was established, the teams were predestined.
The same is true in a spiritual sense. God chose the criteria. John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Mark 16:16 states, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” It was Paul who wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” What was the criterion that God chose? To follow Christ. Therefore, those who follow Christ are predestined.
We must be careful in our assessment of predestination not to deny it. Predestination is a reality. We are predestined. The New Testament does teach the concept of predestination, but the issue hinges on whether God predestines individuals or groups, and therein lies the problem with Calvinist theology. Predestination does not mean that one will be saved or lost against their will. God chose the criteria, but not the individuals. Like shooting free throws to divide up teams, God set the criteria, and when He set the criteria He predestined the teams, but not the individuals. Those who faithfully follow Christ will live with Him for eternity, and those who do not will be separated from Him for eternity. What team you are on all depends upon your response. That is precisely the message Paul is conveying in Romans 8:28-30, a signature passage of scripture for Calvinists. It states, “And we know that God causes all things to work for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” Paul’s use of the word predestined has nothing to do with God selecting certain individuals to be saved before the creation of the universe. Predestinate in the Greek is the word proorizo,2 and it literally means “to mark off by boundaries.” In Romans 8:28-30 it refers to God “marking off His own.
God predestined that those who obeyed the gospel and lived in faithful obedience to Him would be “marked off as His own.” They would be saved as a group. Each individual, therefore, is confronted with the choice of whether to obey the gospel or reject it. The group to be saved would be saved through obeying the gospel, upon which they would be justified by the blood of Christ, and, thus, glorified in heaven at the Second Coming of Christ and after the judgment. God set the criteria, but we choose our fate.
1Dabney, R.L. The Five Points of Calvinism. Web content. http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/dabney/5points.htm#t.
1Calvinism. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism.
2Vine, W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Thomas Nelson: Nashville. 1996. 482.