Who's In and Who's Not?
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Of late I have been seeing posts concerning the doctrine of Predestination. This doctrine crops up frequently in conversations and particularly on social media platforms especially when various denominational creeds, confessions, or articles are cited.
At some point in the exchange the “dreaded” issue of so-called “double predestination” arises and invariably the entire discussion becomes derailed and devolves into a misrepresentation of the doctrine of predestination and an almost complete misunderstanding of what predestination is asserting.
On numerous occasions I have commented on this issue and attempted to clarify the confusion everyone seems to bring to the discussion. Once again, I will attempt to sharpen our understanding of what this doctrine actually is.
1. Everyone Believes in Predestination:
Yes, you read that correctly. If you are an orthodox Christian who asserts the absolute authority of the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible word, then you not only believe the doctrine of predestination, you have to believe it because it is clearly taught in the Bible!
There are many passages that teach the doctrine of predestination but here are the most commonly cited:
Job 14:5 Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; (KJV)
Psalm 65:4 Blessed is the man You choose, And cause to approach You, That he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Of Your holy temple. (NKJ)
Psalm 79:11 Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You; According to the greatness of Your power Preserve those who are appointed to die; (NKJ)
Isaiah 10:1-15 (especially v15 cited here) Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood! (NKJ)
Proverbs 16:1 The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. (NKJ)
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. (NKJ)
Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." (NKJ)
Mark 3:14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, (KJV)
Acts 4:28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. (NKJ)
Romans 8:29-30 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestinedto be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (NKJ)
1 Corinthians 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, (NKJ)
Ephesians 1:5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, (NKJ)
(Eph. 1:5 NKJ) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (NKJ)
1 Peter 1:20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (NKJ)
These and many, many other passages assert God has ordained and has sovereignty over all. Therefore, to deny that there is such a thing as the doctrine of predestination is to deny God’s word and perilously risk being outside of Christianity.
2. What Do We Mean When We Assert Someone is “Predestined?”
One of the substantial difficulties with discussing predestination is that people are not familiar with what the term means and how it is employed scripturally. Usually what occurs is someone has heard someone say they read something someone wrote quoting what another person stated, and so forth.
The word used for predestination in Greek, “proorisas” (προορίσας), means “to decide, to determine, to mark out before hand.” Simply put, God sets the boundaries of all things – the who, what, where, when, and why – in His creation. And, since God created all things, He sets the boundaries of all things.
This activity of God manifests itself in two related but distinct ways. Theologically they are referred to as “general” and “special” predestination. General predestination is commonly known as “God’s Providence” whereas Special predestination is commonly known as “God’s electing grace” or simply, “salvation.”
It is important to understand and maintain these distinctions otherwise confusion and error will creep into ones thinking about predestination. So we have seen that the Bible clearly teaches predestination; what the word means; and how it is understood in theological parlance. Since most people are referring to and have issues with Special predestination, I will focus on that concept here.
3. Special Predestination:
When discussing the nature of salvation and how predestination relates to salvation, involves many other doctrines that we don’t have space to address here. Man’s sinful nature, God’s electing choice, the general call of the gospel, common grace, the so-called “free will” of man and man’s responsibility, regeneration, and others, play a role in how predestination is properly understood in terms of salvation.
The most common refrain, at least from those who are orthodox Christians and not from a particular theological camp (i.e., Reformed or Calvinistic) is, “I believe in predestination, but I don’t believe in double predestination.” If I had a dollar every time I heard someone make this statement, I’d retire a wealthy man. While I understand the concern, it demonstrates a lack of theological understanding of both redemption and predestination proper.
The immediate concern for us here is this, is double predestination taught in the Bible, and is it the consistent understanding throughout Scripture?
Well, to the dismay of many, the concept of double predestination in some form is actually taught in the Bible. The clearest example of this is Judas (John 6:70; 17:12; Acts 1:16) and Esau (Romans 9). However, what becomes critical is to see that these two individuals had a unique and special function in the redemptive plan of God and this concept of double predestination in relation to them, shouldn’t automatically be thought to extend to the broader general concept of predestination. This becomes of the utmost importance when attempting to ascribe to Calvin the belief in double predestination. What people do is read Calvin and come across his comments on Judas and extrapolate – incorrectly – that this is the warp and whoof of Calvin’s view on predestination. Calvin did not believe in a view of predestination as is commonly ascribed to him. It is usually the view of Calvin’s student, Beza’s that is read back into Calvin.
The way theologians articulate how, precisely, predestination relates to salvation is by understanding how God acts in the case of predestination. The manner in which theologians speak of predestination is in terms of equivalency.
There are two ways of understanding predestination when theologians discuss the doctrine. Symmetrical and Asymmetrical. The symmetrical view presents predestination as being identical in how God acts towards both classes of individuals – believers and unbelievers. In this iteration it is said that God acts "equivalently" with both groups; it is a positive-positive action. This is called “Equal Ultimacy” and is more commonly found in hyper-Calvinists such as Perkins, Gill, and more recently the Dutchman, Herman Hoekema, and others.
What they assert is that God positively acts belief in the heart of an unbeliever, thereby changing their heart and subsequent disposition towards God, enabling them to believe and positively works unbelief in the heart of an unbeliever, sealing them in their unbelief, to insure that person is condemned to judgment.
The more common (and I believe Biblical) view is, “Unequal Ultimacy” or “positive-negative” predestination. This is where God positively acts belief in the heart of the unbeliever BUT PASSES OVER the unbeliever, not regenerating the unbeliever’s heart NOR actively working unbelief in the heart. God simply leaves the unbeliever in their own sinful state almost as if He’s ignoring them. They then go on doing exactly as their fallen sinful nature desires; choosing freely, whatever they want out of their depraved sinful nature.
It is also important to return to something I stated above and that is, there is a “sense” in which double predestination is Biblical because, unless you’re a universalist (you believe everyone will ultimately be saved), there is a class of people that go to heaven and there is a class of people that don’t. Therefore, in that very limited and circumscribed understanding, predestination is double. The question then becomes, in what sense is it double? Actively, God acting positively-positively, in an equally ultimate fashion; or is it passively, positively-negatively, in an unequal ultimate fashion.
Given that the Bible clearly teaches predestination; God’s ordaining power, authority, and right, His predestining of all things, setting them in order before the foundation of the world, and that our salvation is an aspect of His predestining authority, the real question remaining is, which view to hold? The more rigid, symmetrical, equally ultimate view or the alternative, the asymmetrical, unequally ultimate view?
In closing let me add this, for all the consternation over Calvin’s understanding of predestination, it is valuable to know that, in his magisterial work, The Institutes, he places predestination, NOT front and center beginning his magnum opus, but much later on, after he discusses the work of the Holy Spirit and prayer. He considered the doctrine of predestination an amazing display of God’s power, His grace, and His love that the third person of the Triune Godhead would apply God’s grace to the “marking out of God’s people in time, space, and history.” What a blessing indeed to have been predestined by the love of the Sovereign God of the universe, before the foundation of the world.
Soli Deo Gloria
 A very helpful treatment of this is R.C. Sproul’s “Chosen by God.”