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Reflections on the Importance of Predestination in the Christian Mindset

by Mark Horne

copyright © 1998

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6.27-36).

As a convinced predestinarian in the Reformed tradition, I find it easy to get frustrated with the level of resistance I find to the basic Biblical doctrine that God has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass. I also find it horrifying how many who name the name of Christ and regard the Bible as their authority for faith and practice, balk at the doctrines of grace, commonly (too commonly) known under the acronym “TULIP.”

But it doesn’t stop there. I also find it frustrating that in churches which belong to denominations within the Reformation tradition, members might never learn of the doctrines in any sort of systematic manner. Nearly as bad, the “doctrines of grace” are often used as a vague platitude which has virtually no more effect in some circles other than to uphold the general “once save, always saved” sloganeering of quasi-antinomian American fundamentalism. The richness of our theological heritage seems to go to waste in places where one would think it ought to be appreciated.

But as bad as all these problems are, there is something worse that can happen; and which does happen, especially on the web. One can make double predestination the central feature of authentic Christianity.

In saying this, I am not necessarily joining with those who whine about Reformed Scholasticism’s alleged practice of making predestination the logical center of their theology and deducing all other doctrines from it. Whether or not and to what extent that ever really happened, my central concern is not with textbook theology except inasmuch as it impinges on the culture of the churches in the stream of the Reformation tradition.

What concerns me is that the Bible makes claims as to what is to be the central feature of our Christianity: our worship, devotional life, and practical ethics, etc. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount (or plain; Jesus undoubtedly preached this foundational message many times and in many place), Jesus laid out his basic agenda. And here we find him taking some central themes of the Hebrew Scriptures and using them to correct the corruptions he found in the practicing Judaism of His day.

You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His special treasure out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. You shall not eat any detestable thing… (Deuteronomy 14.1ff).

One of the central features of the Old Testament is that Israel, the called people of God, was known collectively as God’s son. Further, all the Israelites were sons of God. This entailed that they were to be like God. As a holy nation to a holy God, they were to be holy. God told them to “You shall be Holy for I the LORD your God am Holy” (Leviticus 19.2). Thus when Jesus said, “you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” he was touching the core of what it meant to be the people of God.

This revelation of our identity is also reproduced in the writings of the early Church after Jesus has ascended into heaven:

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Ephesians 4.30-5.2).

Again we see core statements made about what it means to be the children of God, set apart as a special people by God’s Spirit. It means we must imitate God and therefore Jesus. Jesus’ willing sacrifice is considered not only a revelation of what it means to be God, but also what it means to be one of God’s children.

There are many more passages that could easily be quoted. I simply don’t have time to type in half or more of the New Testament Epistles. Christianity took the heritage of the Hebrew Scriptures and applied them by stating that the people of God ought to be like God, which meant to be known as kind and merciful to each other as well as to all men in general.

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

For we also were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3.1ff).

The train of reasoning is simple: God has been gracious to us, so we should be gracious to “all men.” It is a line of reasoning which appears over and over. It is the general ethic for the Church.

So far, so good. I doubt anyone who knows their Bible will want to disagree with me. But what does this have to do with predestination? I bring all this up to ask the following question: Where in Scripture does it tell us that God is to be identified primarily and His people are to be known as those who loudly clamor for the doctrine of predestination? Where does it say that those most closest to God’s heart are those willing to publicly proclaim the majestic logic of supralapsarianism (a scheme, by the way, with which I mostly agree) and show forth the half-heartedness of the infralapsarians? Where does it say “Be ye predestinarian as your Father in Heaven is predestinarian.”?

Make no mistake: The Bible does teach predestination, and therefore all literate Christians ought to believe that God predestines everything. But I wonder if in my zeal for defending this truth, I might not have lost track of what is supposed to be the essence of the Christian life. Websurfing has led me to wonder if that isn’t missing in the lives of many others who believe this doctrine.

I’m sorry if this sounds compromising, but I’ve met one too many Christian (either of college age or stuck in an immaturity level as if he’s still in college) who thinks that no one could possibly be regenerate who didn’t believe in the doctrine of predestination. I know we have to guard against false teaching (that is why I am a member of a denomination which won’t ordain a person into office who does not agree with this important Biblical truth). But we need to remember to identify ourselves by the marks, culture, and ethics which the Bible presents to us as the marks, culture, and ethics of those who identify themselves as God’s children.

So perhaps this explains why Theologia contains very little by way of direct propaganda regarding predestination. There are enough iterations of TULIP elsewhere on the web, that we don’t feel obligated to waste server space. We’ve got other things to worry about.

copyright © 1998

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