The Presbyterian Bugaboo – Predestination

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Predestination is probably the topic most non-Presbyterians, who know anything about Presbyterianism, attribute to Presbyterians.  It is also a topic that I rarely hear come up in Presbyterian churches.  It is likely a topic that scares some Christians away from Presbyterian churches and is therefore a scary topic to many Presbyterians.  But, I believe we (Presbyterians) shouldn’t shy away from it.  I think we should not only believe in predestination, but that we should even highlight that belief.  But before you assume I believe God damns who swaths of humanity, before birth, let me give a little history.

Predestination is something that John Calvin, one of the original reformers, taught.  Where did he get the idea?  He got it from the Bible.  One of a number of passages which highlight predestination is Ephesians 1:7-12:

 In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

The idea is that our salvation was a choice, not by us, but by God.  It means that God chose people for salvation long before they are born.  We do make choices in life but God’s choice for us is even more important than any or even all of our choices.  And the reason Calvin pushed idea was so that Christians wouldn’t spend their lives worrying whether they were going to heaven (or worse, trying to do good works just to get into heaven).  We should be doing good works, many of them, but out of the response to the love which has been shown to us rather than out of fear.

But Calvin’s followers (not Calvin himself) turned the Doctrine of Predestination into a math equation (often called double predestination).  They reasoned that if some people are destined for salvation, then others must be destined for hell.  And this was highlighted in Presbyterian confessions and churches for many years.  But it is not in most, at least most PC(USA) Presbyterian churches, highlighted today.  Again, most Presbyterian churches don’t talk about predestination much at all today.

But because God foreordains some for glory doesn’t mean that God has foreordained others for damnation.  Jesus says nothing about such others.  In fact, Jesus said we will be surprised by some who would make it into the kingdom and some who do not.  Jesus also repeatedly say we should not judge others.  In other words, I believe double predestination should be distrusted because it is a teaching that goes against what Jesus personally taught us.

But predestination, by contrast, should excite us.  It means that God made a choice for us long ago and God has a plan for us (which is not dependent upon us).  The more we are attuned with that plan, the better our lives will be.  This doesn’t mean that God is interested in every little choice we make.  God makes us free.  Our lives are not predetermined here on Earth.  God is not concerned whether we choose to buy a Ford or a Honda.  It doesn’t mean that God foreordains accidents or lottery winners.  It doesn’t mean that God even is concerned whether we choose to be a Presbyterian or a Methodist (or a host of other approaches to knowing him).  But God does want our choices to bring us more and more in accord with our salvation (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”).  And God places our choices within his big choice of saving us all the time and wants us to live accordingly.  God gives us chances all the time to get closer and closer to the people he hopes for us to be.  And the closer we get, the more interesting our lives will become.

That is a nutshell are my thoughts on the big bugaboo in Reformed thought.

What do you think?  Do you think predestination is something we should talk more about in the church? Does the idea that God makes choices for you as well excite you or scare you?  What would our lives look like if we tried to get more in accord with God’s big choice for us?

Until next time,

Tom

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