|Augustine (6th c. fresco)|
But the truth is, my thinking hasn’t changed at all. Over the years, I’ve only become more convinced that single predestination is most faithful to scripture. And I’ve only ever been an Anglo-Lutheran, two traditions that established single predestinarian views early on in their respective histories (the 39 Articles and the Book of Concord). Nevertheless, had I taken the full plunge into Presbyterianism (and I have been a member of two Presby churches—liturgical anomalies that they were), I would still be rooted deeply within the Reformed tradition as a single predestinarian. Why is it that some of the most strident defenders of Calvinian double predestination have chosen to be dismissive of their own tradition’s history on this front? Part of the answer lies in the fact that they’ve likely received the tradition from Henry Cole and Loraine Boettner (both of whom treated the double predestinarian views of Calvin and Zanchius as representative, if not determinative, of the entire tradition), and not from the historic Reformed confessions. There are of course others—more recent and even living proponents of this kind of thinking—but in most instances it can be traced back to Cole and Boettner.
|Thomas Aquinas (Fra Angelico)|
When it comes to the doctrine of election, it is at its best a “consolatory” doctrine (I’m borrowing the term from Ken Stewart here, though he doesn’t make a judgment call on this issue in Ten Myths About Calvinism, and I have no idea where he stands—single or double), which means that the doctrine’s primary import has to do with the “foundation of the church and the anchor of the Christian life” (Ten Myths, 50). It isn’t concerned with speculating about how God’s predestinating people to life relates to those who finally reject the gospel. It instead chooses to say in biblical terms, as Bullinger did, that the ground of condemnation of the ungodly was “because of their own sin and guilt, because they had not received the savior” (ibid., 58).
|Heinrich Bullinger (Hans Asper)|
These documents, all of which are witnesses of no small stature, were composed before the more vocal remonstrance to the Reformation/Augustinian doctrine of election that arose in the seventeenth century. The importance of this fact is that dissenting views, which clearly aligned themselves with the Reformed movement, cropped up from the very beginnings of the Reformation. They are not contrary to Calvin’s doctrine of predestination (unlike the Five Articles of the Remonstrants) but are simply at variant with him (and, e.g., Zanchius, Beza, Perkins), in that none of them go as far as he did in articulating a decree of reprobation. Naturally, these various views were espoused by people who had already held to them before they jumped ship from Rome (Ten Myths, 63). Again, no surprise there, given that single predestination is the historic position of the (Western) church (another post for another time; but see, e.g., the conclusion of the canons of the Council of Orange). Stewart wisely warns: “When this pre-Arminian dissent against predestination as Calvin articulated it is acknowledged, it prevents us from so easily treating dissenters with impatience or exasperation” (ibid.).
So, then, what do you think—is there a Truly Reformed™ position when it comes to single or double predestination?
Before you answer that, read a couple of Reformed statements that were written in the middle of seventeenth-century Arminian dissent—the Canons of Dordt, head 1, art. 15; and the Westminster Confession 3.3, 7.
Maybe the better question is: In which direction do the Reformed confessions lean? How hard do they lean?