23 May 2011

The Logical Order of Things About Which We Know Next to Nothing

Augustine (6th c. fresco)
THERE HAVE BEEN, at times, moments of expected flack since I’ve outed myself as a single predestinarian. At worst it’s deemed a belligerent betrayal, at best with a wink and a nod it’s seen as a defect—often in intelligence. Not too long ago, a dear friend approached me quite concerned about not having vocalized my thoughts on this subject to him or others near to me (he did this for all the right reasons; we all should be so lucky to have at least one friend who cares to this extent), also suggesting my thinking has changed on this issue. With my typical smug chuckle, I didn’t offer any explanation one way or the other—but I thought there wasn’t much of a point when it’s a presumed fact that the breadth of the Reformed tradition excludes single predestination.

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)
Incidentally, it’s this kind of thinking that creates a world in which single predestinarian views are best kept secret. When anything other than double predestinarian views are espoused and they’re treated like a betrayal or a defect of the Reformation heritage, it’s no wonder that the ‘misfits’ will keep their mouths shut. Modern fundamentalism is nothing if not fickle. And this is the reason it’s worth writing about today: No longer ought the unnecessary narrowing of the tradition prevail on this score. Single predestination is as Reformed, if not more classically Protestant (and, indeed, ancient), than double predestination. It has on its side Scripture, tradition, and not a few of the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions. In our current milieu, it behooves single predestinarians to actively—yet patiently and graciously—remind our brothers and sisters of the breadth of their heritage.

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)
With these parameters around the doctrine of election, let’s add a few Reformed confessions to the mix. The 39 Articles (art. 17) I’ve already mentioned, but even more important to Presbyterians and the Reformed, however, are those documents that sprang up on the continent (both Germany and Switzerland). In this regard, read the following: Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 54; Belgic Confession, art. 16; and the Second Helvetic Confession, chap. 10. Add to this the Scots Confession, chap. 8.

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?


Adam Parker said...

I suppose I might ask what exactly is meant by "Double Predestination," because when people tend to ask about that, I simply state what 3.7 of the WCF says, that God "passes by" those He has not graciously elected. For some, that is a form of predestination, and others are quite satisfied that God has no regard for such individuals, and that such does not constitute predestination. I find that line of thought hard to swallow, personally, but I'll let it pass. To me, "double predestination" is something that new Calvinists like to talk about as if it's important, when I long ago settled on the "passing over" language, since I felt like that settled it for me.

So I'm interested, Chris. Maybe you could define "double" and "single" predestination for us?

Chris Donato said...

Good thoughts, Adam. Most of today's proponents of double predestination talk about it in asymmetrical terms (i.e., actively choosing the elect, which implies a passing over of the reprobate). I too was fine with this at first, but over time thought that it was little more than double predestinarians wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

In other words, double predestination, by definition, agrees with single predestinations and its dogged affirmation that (to use Bullinger's words again) the ground of condemnation of the ungodly was “because of their own sin and guilt, because they had not received the savior.” But they take it one step further, as you know, by articulating a decree of reprobation. You also know that this takes two forms (usually): supra- and infralapsarianism.

Now Bavinck thinks that a consistent double predestinarian must needs go with supralapsarianism, which posits that God's decree to election and reprobation occurs (logically) before actual sin (and, of course, original sin). A distinction between positive (active decree of damnation) and negative (passing over) reprobation has very little value for Bavinck (and I tend to agree). Passing over language cannot be construed as merely passive; ultimately, reprobation is active and as such is pushed back to an act of God's sovereignty, which logically precedes God's decree concerning the fall, sin and redemption. Thus, supralapsarianism becomes the consistent double predestinarian position.

Bavinck would also argue, I think, that a consistent single predestinarian is forced to go double, in some sense (as you say above, that you think "that line of thought [that excludes predestination from the non-elect altogether] hard to swallow"). Many others say this as well. Sproul in particular comes to mind.

Now, that's something with which I have to comes to terms, or I have to posit a definition of single predestination that avoids the logical necessity to go double. Or do I? Is it not enough to simply state what the majority of our Reformed confessions/consensus documents state on this subject and let it be? Are we willing, indeed, bound to call the view articulated in these documents (not to mention Augustine and Aquinas) "manifest nonsense," as the author of the aforementioned excerpt does (albeit inadvertently)?

Kevin Davis said...

I like what you say about the nonsense of a merely passive "passing over." To my mind, that hardly comports with a God who is truly sovereign and all-knowing. Yet, I do like the language of "asymmetrical," where the convergence of divine and human agency is asymmetrical.

Thus, we are truly able to articulate, in a monergistic fashion, the dominance of the divine decree and converting Spirit, but we are unable to articulate an equally monergistic scheme (a symmetrical scheme) for the reprobate. That is how I understand the asymmetry of double predestination. But, this is also where I tend toward single predestination, because I emphasize our ability to articulate the decree of election, to an extent which we are not able to do with the decree of reprobation.

Yet, I prefer to just stick with "double predestination," and emphasize the asymmetry. Otherwise, it seems that we are undermining the sovereignty and omniscience of God, by refusing to acknowledge a decree of reprobation. Especially, the problems surrounding middle knowledge and open theism seem to demand a doctrine of double predestination.

For what it's worth, I tend toward supralapsarianism, but both supra and infra have problems regarding competitive views of divine and human agency.

Chris Donato said...

Thanks for this, Kevin.

For my part, while supralapsarianism does seem to be consistent in this regard, and also more in line with a biblical theology proper, the more supra- I'd get, the more Barthian I think I'd have to go—i.e., Barth's supra- notion that X is the object of God's sovereign decree as both the elect one (and thus all who are in him are elect) as well as the God-forsaken (reprobate).

If not construed in this manner, then I can't help but avoid the notion of an arbitrary deity deciding in eternity "past" who's in and who's out.

Kevin Davis said...

True, any supra account will have to have the election/reprobation of Christ at the center. Yet, so long as universalism is not in play, we still have the problem of a reprobate number apart from Christ. The mechanics of how that reprobate populace is decided is largely unknown, since we aren't privy to the synchronic agency of eternity and the temporal.

Yet, this also means that we can't rule-out individual sin and desires (depravity of will) as having some influence or bearing on reprobation; we just don't know how or what influence this has since it is God's judgment. In other words, God chooses to what extent the will of each person conditions his own divine will. God's comprehensive sovereignty makes the divine will ultimately (decisively) unconditional, yet this sovereignty means that God is free to be conditioned by the human will. The operative term is free: God is free, not man. As such, the human will never has libertarian freedom. The divine will is never forced to be conditioned by any libertarian freedom of the human will, yet it is conditioned precisely and only as the divine will chooses.

Of course, many Calvinists will not allow any sort of conditionality, yet I don't know how WCF 3.1 could be understood otherwise. What I'm describing is similar to middle knowledge but without human libertarian freedom, which would make open theism unavoidable.

Chris Donato said...

It's funny, you know. I wanted to go there in the last comment, but it was running long and, more importantly, I didn't want to open the can of worms idea that conditionality is actually worked into God's sovereign plan. I'm all for it; I think that's an important facet of understanding much of the tensions we find in scripture (not least in prophetic oracles and omens).

Perhaps God's predestinating to life means that in the establishing of his eternal plan he includes in it each person's free response (construed in a compatible—not libertarian—fashion) to his grace, because, after all, to God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy.

Thanks for sharpening the edges around here, Kevin. Your input is deeply appreciated.

Ken Stewart said...

You have opened up an interesting discussion here, tangential to _Ten Myths_. Personally, I feel oxygen-starved when handling this delicate question of double versus single predestination. But my instinct is that Roger Olson has not characterized things rightly in his kind overview of _Ten Myths_ in pitting Calvin's double predestination over against the alleged single predestination of such persons as Bullinger and Martyr.
All sixteenth century predestinarians seem to have agreed that the all-encompassing will of God was embracive enough to enfold two 'ends' for humanity. In that sense, all of these might be said to be 'double predestinarians' - if carefully explained. Yet to leave the matter there would be to obscure where they differed. The dissenters, such as Bullinger and Martyr wanted to point out that the Bible never uses the term 'predestination' to describe the end of the lost. They also stressed that the manner of speaking of predestination, common to Calvin and Zanchius (which contemplated God symmetrically intending the ends of saved and lost)left God very vulnerable to the charge of both being the author of sin and being one who created in order to damn.
It is my understanding that it is the more modestly-conceived conception which prevailed first at Dordt (1619) and at Westminster (1647)- though the alternative view was most certainly represented in both places. A Dordt passage that bears examination is the final conclusions (4th bullet point) at:http://www.crcna.org/pages/dort_canons_conclusion.cfm where it is explicitly denied that election and reprobation proceed from the will of God "in the same manner" (i.e. there is asymmetry as to how the two are related to God's will). The WCF in III.3 explicitly reserves predestination language for the saved, and speaks only of the foreordination of the lost (who in III.7 are said to be passed by "for their sin").

I think it is safe to say that many who hold to a position like that of Dordt and Westminster are inclined to speak of themselves as holding to 'single predestination'. This is acceptable if all one means to stress is that the actual term predestination applies singly to the saved. But I think it is closer to the truth to say that both Dordt and Westminster uphold what might be called a "double but non-symmetrical predestination" inasmuch as they distinguish between the saved (who are objects of surprising mercy) and the lost (who furnish the grounds of their own condemnation by their sin and unbelief).

The position I caution that we steer clear of is the unguarded double predestination (which I found in Calvin) which simply seems to trace salvation and damnation back, symmetrically, to the will of God. That point of view _did_ lead to charges that God was the author of sin and the creator of persons for the sole end of damnation.Seventeenth century Calvinists had to respond to these charges both from Arminians and Cambridge Platonists.

Chris Donato said...

Dr. Stewart,

Thank you for taking the time to comment here, and also for your grace. I know I may have overstated the differences between the characters that you put forth in the Ten Myths.

I have not read Olson's full review, but I do think there is some warrant to collapsing the version of single predestination you articulate in this chapter into a softer kind of double predestination. Almost every double predestinarian I know speaks of the reprobate in asymmetrical (and infralapsarian) terms. As Adam alludes to above, I don't think that's a surprise to many of us.

My question, then, following Bavinck, is how do we avoid single predestination a la Dordt or Westminster eventually and necessarily (logically speaking) being reduced to double predestination, and even further, to supralapsarianism?

It appears the only way to avoid this would be to articulate a version of single predestination that avoids the logical necessity to go double (and thus symmetrical and supralapsarian).

Loaded question: Does the Augustinian Catholic version of predestination accomplish this? Or is it truly semi-Pelagian?

David said...

Hey Chris,

If I may, ask,

You say: In other words, double predestination... agrees with single predestinations... But they take it one step further, as you know, by articulating a decree of reprobation.

David: How do you understand "decree of reprobation"?

As I read the classics. It first aspect of reprobation, preterition, consists of the determination to pass some by, and the second, precondemnation, is only then the determination to condemn those passed by on the grounds of their condemnation.

Is that problematic for you?

Usually the problem is located in the nature of the causality in all this. How is their condemnation "ordained" exactly? The normal answer is God permits them, and so this is a permissive causality with a permissive decree. Furthermore, the mechanism is mysterious. We know that God does not efficiently cause their sin, but only permits it: and here we stop.

Calvin wanted to say that sin, by permission (willing, not unwilling) it remotely caused by God. Bullinger in his letters to Calvin didnt want to speak in any terms of causation of sin and damnation. He still granted permission of sin. This is where Bullinger and Calvin parted. The issue seems to have been their wilingness to express further logical implications.

The Calvinist would say, you may not like the language, but how can anything else be implied.

If Ive made sense, what exactly do you object to?

To Ken S,
You say that you found in Calvin, the idea of a symmetrical predestination where he traced salvation and damnation back, symmetrically, to the will of God.

Can I ask where? I would say Calvin traced the cause back to God, as a remote cause, but the caution is equivocal. Election is directly and efficiently caused, but reprobation is indirectly and permissively caused. But the ultimate cause is God.

This causal equivocation precludes symmetrical predestination and reprobation.

Make sense? If so, :-) the problem is?


David said...

correction if I may,

It hit the wrong option on the spell checker

for "the caution is equivocal" read
the causation is equivocal.


Chris Donato said...

Hi, David. Thanks for taking time to comment.

Regarding your first question, "passing over" language is not problematic for me, at least as far as the point of this post is concerned. As long as I've held to any doctrine of particular redemption, it's been (I think) Augustinian in flavor—God calls out people from the massa perditionis to die to self, to bring glory to his holy name, and to call the world to do the same (both in word and in deed).

However, in these comments, I'm wondering if Bavinck is correct; if, indeed, the "passing over" language must necessarily (logically) entail moving beyond mere passivity on God's part (as the Calvin, et al., argued), thereby pushing back reprobation (logically) before the decree to permit the fall (i.e., supralapsarianism). If so, then the "passing over" language isn't enough to protect us from the accusation that we're ultimately making God out to be "the author of sin and the creator of persons for the sole end of damnation" (as Dr. Stewart writes above).

This is the problem as I see it: if a given view has further logical implications, then we hold them, whether or not we choose to vocalize them.

Put differently, is Sproul right when he writes (from the above link) that it's "manifest nonsense" to refuse to draw the inference that reprobation is logically inescapable?

If so, then we need to go double, or come up with another definition of single predestination.

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