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Encyclopedia > Types of religious predestination
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Types of religious predestination

Described in terms of human freedom

Predestination may be described under two types, with the basis for each found within their definition of free will. Between these poles, there is a complex variety of systematic differences, particularly difficult to describe because the foundational terms are not strictly equivalent between systems.


The two poles of predestinarian belief may be usefully described in terms of their doctrinal comparison between the Creator's freedom, and the creature's freedom. These can be contrasted as either univocal, or equivocal conceptions of freedom.


Univocal concept of freedom

The univocal conception of freedom holds that human will is free of cause, even though creaturely in character. These belief systems hold that the Creator has fashioned human volition in the likeness of God's uncreated will - unequivocally comparable in terms of freedom and creativity, although different in terms of the willing subject: whether God or the creature.


The resulting view is that the freedom with which men make choices is compatible with, and in some sense co-ultimate with, the freedom of the Creator's choices. This univocal conception of freedom rejects as incompatible with any freedom, an overruling will of the Creator causing the particular choices of man.


At the farthest end of this spectrum of predestinarian beliefs, human choices are co- creative and absolutely free, without denying that man's choices are creaturely in their subjective character. Therefore, individuals differ from one another on account of both, human effort and divine action. The outcome of man's choices are predictable by God, and inevitable or predestined in this sense by God, but constructed upon a dual foundation of both, God's definite order established by His creating and sustaining will, and the co- operating will of man.


Men make choices according to the created nature and gifts given them by their Creator, but their choices are their own to make without mixture of God's choice. Thus, the interplay of God's and man's volition is called synergism (working together). Predestination is therefore on the basis of man's choice, foreknown by God, perhaps circumstantially provided for by Him, but not caused by God, according to such a system of belief.


Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom

At the other end of the spectrum are analogical conceptions of freedom. These versions of predestination hold that individual choice is not excluded from the fashioning work of the Creator. Man's will is free because it is determined, boundaried or created by God. In other words, apart from God's will determining man's will in a divine sense, only chaos or enslavement to mindless and impersonal forces is possible. Man's will may be called free and responsible, but not in an absolute sense; the choice of good or of evil must be uncoerced in order to be free, but it is never uncreated or uncaused. The likeness of creaturely freedom to divine freedom is analogical, not univocal.


It is important to note that there is no significant representation among predestinarians, for the idea that human choices are unreal, merely the direct expression of the Creator's will. The analogy implied here, means that however else human and divine freedom may be comparable, there is an unlikeness between the free will of the Creator and human freedom which is dependent upon the Creator for both, existence and power. With no significant exception, when predestinarians deny that man has freedom of will, it is in order to deny that man's will is free in the same sense as the Creator's will, or to affirm that man's choices are entirely subject to divine causation. Men are responsible without being absolutely original. This is particularly true in these systems, if they acknowledge a doctrine of Original Sin, whereby every person is understood to be born into a condition of helplessness under the power or the effects of sin; for whom, either through inherited guilt, or the inherited consequences of guilt, a purely free choice of the good is not possible without the aid of God's undeserved grace.


Traditional Islam holds to the powerlessness of human will, apart from the aid of Allah, and yet without a doctrine of Original Sin. Thus, Islam has the simplest version of predestination, viewing all that comes to pass as the will of Allah. And yet, the Qur'an affirms human responsibility, saying for example: "Allah changeth not the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts". There is no significant view of predestination that entirely relieves man of responsibility for his own choices.


Therefore, all significant versions of predestination account for the differences between people (perhaps in life or, in death, or both) by reference to the will of the Creator. Also, all versions of predestination incorporate into the doctrine various concepts of human responsibility, which differ from one another in terms of the kind of volitional freedom possible for the creature.


Described in terms of Augustinianism

In the intellectual and doctrinal history of the Christian Church, a useful reference point, to distinguish the differences, is Augustine of Hippo, whose career is prominently marked by his writings against the non-predestinarian views of Pelagius.


In these terms, The Eastern Orthodox Church tradition has never adopted the Augustinian view of predestination, and formed a doctrine of predestination by another historical route, sometimes called Semi-Pelagianism in the West. The Western Church, including the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations, are predominantly Augustinian in some form, especially as interpreted by Gregory the Great and The Council of Orange (a Western council that anathemitized Semi- Pelagianism as represented in some of the writings of John Cassian and his followers). This council explicitly denies double predestination.


In Roman Catholic doctrine, the accepted understanding of predestination most predominantly follows the interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, and can be contrasted with the Jansenist interpretation of Augustinianism, which was condemned by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation. The only important branch of Western Christianity that continues to hold to a double predestination interpretation of Augustinianism, is within the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation. The meaning of this term is discussed under the subsection on Calvinism, below.


In broad Christian conversation, predestination refers to the view of predestination commonly associated with John Calvin and the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Reformation; and, this is the non-technical sense in which the term is typically used today, when belief in predestination is affirmed or denied.


Controversy concerning Calvinism

In this common, loose sense of the term, to affirm or to deny predestination has particular reference to the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election. In the Calvinist system, this doctrine normally has only pastoral value related to the assurance of salvation. However, the philosophical implications of the doctrine of election and predestination are sometimes discussed beyond these systematic bounds. Under the topic of the doctrine of God (theology proper), the predestinating decision of God cannot be contingent upon anything outside of Himself, because all other things are dependent upon Him for existence and meaning. Under the topic of the doctrines of salvation (soteriology), the predestinating decision of God is made from God's knowledge of his own will, and is therefore not contingent upon human decisions (rather, free human decisions are outworkings of the decision of God, which sets the total reality within which those decisions are made, in exhaustive detail: that is, nothing left to chance). Calvinists do not pretend to understand how this works; but they are insistent that the Scriptures teach both, the sovereign control of God, and the responsibility and freedom of human decisions (see "Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom " above).


This view is commonly called double predestination, although within a Calvinist system this term is usually accepted only with qualifications, and many reject the term altogether as being incompatible with the pastoral use of the doctrine of election.


Double predestination is the eternal act of God, whereby the future of every particular person in the human race has been determined beforehand, by God. Whatever the individual wills or does, for good or for evil, is conceived as performing a functional part, or outworking of that ordained purpose. This prior determination applies to both, the elect and the reprobate. This idea is formed on an interpretation of various Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments. Romans 9 is frequently quoted in explanation of the doctrine.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory - KJV

Calvinist groups use the term "Hyper-Calvinism" to describe Calvinistic systems that assert without qualification that God's intention to destroy some is equal to His intention to save others. Some forms of Hyper-Calvinism have racial implications, against which other Calvinists vigorously object (see Afrikaner Calvinism).


Expressed sympathetically, the Calvinist doctrine is that God has mercy or witholds it, with particular consciousness of who are to be the recipients of mercy in Christ. Therefore, the particular persons are chosen, out of the total number of human beings, who will be rescued from enslavement to sin and the fear of death, and from punishment due to sin, to dwell forever in His presence. Those who are being saved are assured through the gifts of faith, the sacraments, and communion with God through prayer and increase of good works, that their reconciliation with Him through Christ is settled by the sovereign determination of God's will. God also has particular consciousness of those who are passed over by His selection, who are without excuse for their rebellion against Him, and will be judged for their sins.


By implication, and expressed unsympathetically, the number of the elect subtracted from the total number, leaves an exact number of those who are consciously passed over by the mercy of God, who will dwell forever away from His presence, without regard to anything that otherwise distinguishes people from one another. All are believed to be undeserving, whether they are rich or poor, male or female, murderers or philanthropists, or any other difference. In other words, God determines the exact numbers of the damned and the saved, and these numbers are consciously known and indeed, decided upon by God, before any of these individuals have begun to exist.


Thus, Calvinists may acknowledge with qualifications that, double predestination is a legitimate position, logically deduced from any form of single predestination that does not include universal salvation.


Calvinists typically divide on the issue of predestination into infralapsarians (sometimes called 'sublapsarians') and supralapsarians. Infralapsarians believe that God chose his elect considering the situation after the Fall, while supralapsarians believe that the Fall was ordained by God's decree of election. In infralapsarianism, election is God's response to the Fall, while in supralapsarianism the Fall is part of God's plan for election. In spite of the division, many Calvinist theologians would consider the debate surrounding the infra- and supralapsarian positions one in which scant Scriptural evidence can be mustered in either direction, and which at any rate has little effect on the overall doctrine.


Some Calvinists decline from describing the eternal decree of God in terms of a sequence of events or thoughts, and many caution against the simplifications involved in describing any action of God in speculative terms. Most make distinctions between the positive manner in which God chooses some to be recipients of grace, and the manner in which grace is consciously withheld so that some are destined for everlasting punishments.


Debate concerning predestination according to the common usage, concerns the destiny of the damned, whether God is just if that destiny is settled prior to the existence of any actual volition of the individual, and whether the individual is in any meaningful sense responsible for his destiny if it is settled by the eternal action of God.


Examples of non-Calvinistic predestination

The Eastern Orthodox view was summarized by Bishop Theophan the Recluse in response to the question, "What is the relationship between the Divine provision and our free will?"

Answer: The fact that the Kingdom of God is "taken by force" presupposes personal effort. When the Apostle Paul says, "it is not of him that willeth," this means that one's efforts do not produce what is sought. It is unnecessary to combine them: to strive and to expect all things from grace. It is not one's own efforts that will lead to the goal, because without grace, efforts produce little; nor does grace without effort bring what is sought, because grace acts in us and for us through our efforts. Both combine in a person to bring progress and carry him to the goal. (God's) foreknowledge is unfathomable. It is enough for us with our whole heart to believe that it never opposes God's grace and truth, and that it does not infringe man's freedom. Usually this resolves as follows: God foresees how a man will freely act and makes dispositions accordingly. Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination.

Arminians similarly hold that God does not so much choose, as infallibly predict, who will believe and, persevering, be saved. Although God knows from the beginning of the world who will go where, the choice is still with the individual.


Barthians provide a view of predestination by which it is hoped that the antithesis between Augustinianism and Pelagianism is entirely circumvented. In this scheme, predestination only properly applies to God Himself. Thus, mankind is chosen for salvation in Jesus Christ, at the permanent cost of God's self-surrendered hiddenness, or transcendence. Thus, the redemption of all mankind is a devoutly to be wished for possibility, but the only inevitability is that God has predestined Himself, in Jesus Christ, to be revealed and given for mankind's salvation.


Lutherans also believe in predestination, but they differ from Calvinists. Lutherans believe in single predestination, in which God only chooses whom to save, while those he does not choose are damned not by his intent but merely by default.


Speculation related to predestination

A number of speculative ideas have appeared that attempt to explain the relationship between time and eternity, which have bearing on the subject of predestination. Some regard all speculation about predestination and its implications as all alike, pernicious, and offensive to God.


Time is a line or plane of being within the unlimited field of eternity

A common pre-Kantian idea of time and eternity, describes "eternity" as a trans-temporal mode of being - such that all the moments of time are in some sense present in eternity. God looks into the realm of temporal reality from outside of it, as though it were a surface or a line stretched out: the edges or ends of which are fully "visible" to God, so that He is in a somewhat spatial sense "omnipresent" with regard to time. In such a speculative view, the past, present and future are all in some sense simultaneously present in the eternal perspective of God. From a temporal point of view, the past seems to disappear and the future doesn't yet exist, and God always appears to act from moment to moment. But from an eternal perspective, there is nothing temporal about time. Non-determinism is not possible on such a view, but predestination may be excluded if the belief system does not permit the direct interference of the non-temporal God and the temporal plane of existence.


Time is the succession of events

Some belief systems allow for the possibility that only God and the present moment are the sum of what is "real". The past persists only in its effects, and the future does not yet exist, and thus only the present is directly knowable. Further, the "eternity" of God is presumed by some not to be accessible to understanding, and therefore no speculation can be meaningfully based upon it.


Nevertheless, these belief systems may retain an idea of God's decision eternally determining the present or future, in the sense of God's decision being logically prior, or "transcendentally necessary" to all existence. Time is not a "thing", but rather, a succession of the intersections of God's manifold purposes being revealed in the creation. Time is the succession of events, identified as moments by an intentional, mental act of setting one event apart from another and noticing their relation to one another - but, otherwise time does not exist as irreducible, discrete moments. Time is coherent, because God consistently acts according to his own character.


Strong predestinarian views are basically undisturbed by these assumptions, because strong predestination is based upon God's knowledge of Himself and of His own purposes. The effect of these new views of time are more clearly seen among those who reject strong predestinarian views, because those views classically share a comparable conception of the relation between time and eternity.


Predestinarian version: God, in comparison to temporality, always is. Temporal things however, exist from each fleeting moment of being to the next, only in the present. Such a conception of reality may be thoroughly predestinarian, if God is the personal cause of continued existence and the orchestrator or determiner of the relationship between each present event and each subsequent present event; but, it is only predestination if in this conception God acts with absolute freedom and entire knowledge of Himself. God brings to pass each moment in its turn by a continuous, timeless act of self-revelation. God sustains the effectiveness of all secondary causes and choices, and so on. Thus, each moment is a disclosure of God's character. The meaning of time and experience is disclosed not in the subjective relation of the present to the past and the future, but rather, because of the relation of all created things, in every aspect, to the will of God. As a logical consequence, the meaning of history is known only through the knowledge of God (an idea similar to this can be found in the speculations of Augustine of Hippo and some Calvinist philosophers, such as Herman Dooyeweerd).


Anti-predestinarian version: If the idea of absolute freedom and entire self-knowledge is absent from this kind of idea of God's acts in time, then God Himself is (to express the idea anthropomorphically) becoming something new, or discovering something new about Himself with each new moment, just as we are. It's as though God is waking up to the possibilities that are inherent in temporally limited acts, and like an artist developing his ideas in dynamic interaction with an ever-changing medium, He is making new discoveries about himself every day. A summary of such a view might be that, the present is an encounter "in God" with new possibilities (where "God" is sometimes not understood "theistically", in the sense of a "person"), and the past is thus a record or remembrance "by God" of the experiences of existent beings. Or, put another way, the past is what God has thus far become in the process of all experience, and the future is pure possibility. Predestination is completely excluded from such a system, except possibly in the most broad outlines of God's intentions. God's decision, on such a view, is an inventive experience, almost precisely equivalent to the unfolding process of historical events (thinking like this can be found in modern process theology and Open Theism).


There are other types of Christian or Christian-influenced belief, which exclude the personality, or the volitional aspect of the personality of God, so that even if they express some form of determinism, it is not predestination in a theistic sense.


New England theology

Jonathan Edwards developed an idea of free will and determinism that is a creative synthesis of the Calvinistic version of predestination, and philosophy.


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