How do you interpret predestination and election? How do you not go down the double predestination path?

April 24, 2020

Calvin himself referred to (double) predestination as a “dreadful and horrible decree,” which should suffice as an indication of how far Calvin’s doctrine had wandered from the glad tidings of the Gospel. However, those who resist Calvin’s understanding of election, in which God— in a sheer display of God’s sovereignty— eternally determined some for faith (and thus for salvation) and eternally determined others for unbelief (and thus for perdition), often mistakenly believe that the doctrine of election itself is unique to Calvinism. This is not the case. The Apostle Paul uses the language of predestination— election and rejection— in his epistle to the Romans. Peter refers to the Church as those whom God the Father has elected from before the foundation of the world. Predestination follows logically from the prologue to John’s Gospel, for if God-with-us is prior to creation, then God obviously has eternally elected us for himself. Calvin inherited his understanding of predestination from St. Augustine and, from Augustine, it found its way into both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology. Thomas Aquinas, for example, has a doctrine of predestination. 

As Karl Barth discovered, the problem with the traditional doctrines of election was their starting points. Augustine, for example, developed his understanding from the ground up, beginning with humanity’s sinfulness and our station in the earthly city. How could we as corrupt and contingent creatures ever make our way to the City of God? Calvin, meanwhile, took as his starting point the Doctrine of God and the Divine Attributes (Sovereignty). Notice, both Augustine and Calvin begin generally rather than particularly with the person and work of Christ. The result, said Barth, is that their doctrine of election “effectively reduced Jesus Christ to the role of election’s executor by emphasizing a secret decree of the Father. A hidden God we can never know stands as the author of election behind a Christ appearing in time as the organ which serves the electing will of God.” The traditional doctrine of predestination severed the link between Christ and election, yet this is contrary to the claim Christians make by naming God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God has elected— prior to creation itself— NOT TO BE GOD WITHOUT US. 

If who God is eternally is Jesus Christ, then, when it comes to predestination, the particular (God in Jesus Christ) must inform the general (election). 

In his Church Dogmatics II.2, Barth radically reworked the Doctrine of Election from a Christocentric focus. Rather than an arcane, pretemporal decree by which God groups his creatures into categories of “saved” and “damned,” predestination— and, even, double predestination— become ways of understanding who God is in Jesus Christ. 

Election names Jesus Christ. 

For Barth, Jesus Christ is the Elect. He is the Predestined One. No one else is elected like Jesus 

(Act 4:12), but all are elected in Jesus (c.f. Eph 1:4). All people are included in Christ’s election (1 Cor 15:22). From before the foundation of the word, God chose to be the Son who would bear away the sins of all and who would bear witness to faithfulness for all. 

It’s God’s choosing of us in Jesus Christ that is efficacious for our salvation NOT our choosing of Jesus Christ. “The One has died for all,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore all have died.” 

All. 

Have died— past tense.

Because of God’s election of us in Jesus Christ, we’re all already insiders. 

Christ’s atoning work through cross and resurrection is actual and objective; such that, our act of faith/inviting Jesus into our hearts/saying the sinner’s prayer/making a decision for Christ does not effect anything that isn’t already true about all of us. 

“Born again Christian” is a redundancy. 

You asked how I do not go down the road of double predestination. 

But I do!

With Barth. 

Barth acknowledges that Calvin is correct in finding biblical support for double predestination. Indeed, in his deep dive into scripture, Barth sees how God’s pattern of electing and rejecting is the dominant motif of the Bible, yet Barth departs from Calvin by restricting the scope of election to Christ alone— in this way, Barth seeks to make the doctrine cohere with the mantra of the Reformation. Jesus is the sole subject and the sole object of election, Barth says, such that there is no longer two groups (i.e. the elect and the reprobate), but instead there is One who is both the only elected one and only rejected one (CD II/2). 

He is both Jacob and Esau for all. 

Jesus was elected to be rejected. 

God sent his one and only son to die on the cross for the sins of the world (John 3:16-17). Jesus is elected for all and rejected for all, and therefore in his resurrection, Barth says, “Jesus is Victor” over all and has become the savior of all the world (1 John 2:2).

Barth recast the Doctrine of Election around the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ for the entire world. In so doing, I think Barth returned election to a stronger biblical foundation and one that necessarily leads to the vocation of the Church. Rather than a horrible and dreadful decree about which we can do nothing and to which Jesus Christ evidently has no connection, the Doctrine of Election describes what God has done for all in Jesus Christ and thus is  “the sum of the gospel because of all the words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.”

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