Monday, January 13, 2014

Predestined Line of Reasoning

It is hard to argue with Calvin's reading of much of the New Testament. Like all issues in scripture, predestination is not somehow the end-all be-all of the text, but it is the prevailing view. There are many more New Testament passages that imply or directly commend predestination, than passages criticizing it or implying a different view. Paul, especially, seems to hold something like this view.

Now, we are not required to take the prevailing Biblical voice on an issue. The way to solve the conversational nature of scripture is not by just picking out which every voice is the dominant one and calling it the truth. For instance, God's omnipotence is the prevailing view of scripture, yet there are passages that seem to point a different direction. It should be clear to any of my regular readers that I add my own voice to the smaller group of Biblical writers. Yet I do this admitting that I am not on AS FIRM Biblical ground as those who disagree with me. My reason for taking the position I do comes not solely from scripture (though if it were not there at all, I think I'd have big problem), but from reason. Those lesser voices had an answer to that ever-pressing problem of evil and innocent suffering, and that is just too strong an argument to discount, for me.

Yet the predestination voices, dominant as they are, have behind them a similarly strong line of reasoning. For one, they are part of the Biblical writers' way of dealing with the fact that not all people exposed to the Gospel accept it. This is particularly difficult when you realize that the Jesusian message was not very popular with the Jews, at least not on a mass scale. Why could God's own people not recognize His son? It also deals with the simple issue of Grace. How do we make sense of the mercy of God in light of the New Testament's very negative theological anthropology (picture of human nature)? Predestination does just that.

So I'm a predestinarian. But let's be clear about what predestination is not. It is not a denial of free will. Predestination does not require belief in TOTAL depravity. I am still free to drink sprite or coke. I am still free to help this person, right here, right now. I am always free to do the right thing. What I am not free to do, what I do not have the power to do, is make myself into the kind of person who somehow deserves heaven. My freedom is damaged enough that I cannot create by my own power the kind of self-hood that would make me worthy of heaven.

Predestination is not fatalistic about all things. It only says that whether I am getting into heaven or not is decided from the beginning. I was chosen from the moment I was born or conceived (or from eternity if you believe in divine omniscience, which I don't). And predestination doesn't decide the scope of that salvation. Who God is chosen is not defined simply by virtue of believing in predestination. And I believe that all people are predestined for heaven. I take another minority view in scripture: universalism, and combine it with this more prevailing view of predestination (in fact, there is no way to be a universalist without also being predestinarian). My reasons for this are many. But let me say that over and above all reflections, the prevailing message of the Bible are this: mercy, justice, and the Cross. All doctrines, all Biblical conversations, must be interpreted in light of these Biblical themes. And moreover, I would say that it is only the last theme that really matters, since it swallows up the other two. Predestination need not make us wonder if we are one of the ones called, for all concerns such as this fall into shadow beneath the substance of the cross. The cross is beyond mercy and justice, and it ensures both our judgment and our salvation. Whatever predestination is or isn't, it is not greater than that message.

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