Chapter 1.
Classical Calvinist Doctrine of God

Paul Helm

But if Scripture indubitably opposes our understanding, even though our reasoning appears to us to be impregnable, still it ought not to be believed to be substantiated by any truth at all. It is when Sacred Scripture either clearly affirms or in no way denies it, that it gives support to the authority of any reasoned conclusion.Anselm

I begin with a confession. Despite the title of this contribution, I reckon that there is no such thing as the "Classical Calvinist Doctrine of God." This "doctrine" is none other than the mainstream Christian doctrine of God. It is the same, give or take some details, as that set forth by Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas—the A team—three of the formative Christian theologians in the period before the Reformation.

In revisiting and refreshing the biblical basis of Christian doctrine, John Calvin and his followers pursued an essentially conservative course, reforming or attempting to reform only what they judged by Scripture to need reforming. That is why Calvin's Institutes, considered as a work in systematic theology, is such an uneven book. Thus the doctrines of divine simplicity, eternity, and immutability, together with divine freedom, omniscience, and omnipotence, were left undisturbed. Calvin also affirmed the orthodox view of the Trinity and the Incarnation and gave those doctrines a central place in his theology where the emphasis fell mainly on soteriology. And as we shall see, even the doctrine for which Calvin is best known and often reviled, predestination, he took from the A team because he held that what they believed was apostolic and dominical. Predestination is a central implication of the doctrine of prevenient grace as it was affirmed by the Second Council of Orange in 529.

If this is so, then the "perspectives" on the doctrine of God offered by the other three contributors to this book must be regarded as deviating from the main spine of Christian theism. If those setting forth the core of Christian theology can be shown to concur over predestination and the doctrine of God that it implies, then the onus of proof must be on the shoulders of those who wish to affirm that Calvin held a perspective on the doctrine of God distinct from that of the mainstream tradition (hereafter "the tradition"), one that can be discussed side by side with other more recent perspectives. In this connection the use of perspective is questionable because it presumes that any serious perspective is and ought to be regarded as a live option for Christians.

Reference to tradition, however hallowed, does not settle theological issues. And appeal to tradition ought not to be taken as an indefeasible argument for the truth of some Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, the views of the A team, and particularly the biblical grounds they offer for those views, create a presumption in favor of those views. Nothing more than this but also nothing less. I do not deny that there are other early voices in the church such as those of Origen or Ambrose or Jerome. Nevertheless, on any account of the development of Christian doctrine, particularly in the Western church, theirs cannot be said to have become the default position.

I intend this chapter to undermine the presumption of parity between the tradition and the three other perspectives offered in the book. In terms of the Reformation and afterwards, and considered in historical order, Arminianism rejects the Augustinian doctrine of efficacious grace and its doctrinal underpinnings and consequences and affirms the power of the human will autonomously to cooperate with God's grace. These positions are substantially similar to those by which Pelagius and the Semi-Pelagians rejected Augustine's view of grace. Arminius himself rejected the Augustinianism of the Reformation on rationalist grounds and in developing his own response employed among other things the doctrine of middle knowledge newly devised by Molina and Fonseca.

Later on the Wesleys and most of the Methodist movement avowed a more evangelical form of Arminianism, thus sparking off controversy with Calvinists such as George Whitefield and Augustus Toplady. The Wesleyan style of Arminianism has influenced the doctrinal stance of more recent denominations and movements such as the Church of the Nazarene and Pentecostalism. With its espousal of a God who is in time, mutable, liable to be surprised and frustrated, who cannot foreknow the future free actions of humanity since there is no such future for Him to know, open theism is a further development of Arminianism. It is what follows when libertarian freedom, coupled with the belief that such freedom and God's knowledge of the future are irreconcilable, is made the central pillar of Christian theology. Open theism has precedents in an earlier deviation from the classical Christian position, the Socinianism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and (interestingly) in the antifatalistic metaphysics of Cicero to which Augustine reacted so robustly in The City of God. Finally, insofar as the modified Calvinist perspective represents a clear and distinctive position, it seems to be somewhat unstable as between the tradition and Arminianism. Ultimately it must find its resting place in one of the other of these two positions.

In what follows I shall endeavor to make good each of these claims and their implications for the doctrine of God. I shall highlight the traditional Christian view of predestination and its Scriptural sources and note the doctrine of God that it entails. There is of course no reverse entailment since predestination is God's free decree.

I shall first attend to the views of the A team and then to Calvin himself. Then we shall, as Calvin did, revisit the biblical basis of predestination. I shall show how the three other perspectives clearly deviate from or, in the case of modified Calvinism, are inclined to deviate from this position and the consequences such deviations have for the doctrine of God. A philosophical side to all this will emerge, a distinctive position that is implied by the classical Christian view of God and its basis in Scripture, and a philosophical lesson from the story of the deviations therefrom. It has to do with the philosophical attitude to the mysteriousness of the relation between God and his creation, and thus with the important question of whether, for the Christian, theology or philosophy has priority in the articulation of Christian doctrine.

Predestination and the Tradition

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

We shall look at only two representative writings of Augustine. First, his letter to Simplicianus, Ambrose's successor as Bishop of Milan (published in 396, shortly after Augustine became a bishop), shows that Augustine's views on grace and predestination were not the product of the mind of a morose and hard old man but were clearly present much earlier. Augustine deals with two passages from chapters 7 and 9 of Paul's letter to the Romans that were critical in the later Pelagian controversy. We shall examine his remarks on Romans 9. The second writing is his later On the Predestination of the Saints (429) which refers back to Augustine's earlier treatment of Romans 9 in his letter to Simplicianus. Three themes are prominent in these writings: God's grace is unmerited; it is efficacious; and in freely choosing to give grace to some and not to others, God acts righteously.

In his letter to Simplicianus, Augustine at once raises the question of whether the "according to election" of Rom 9:11 refers to a choice based on the foreknowledge of Jacob's faith even before he was born. Augustine responds:

If election is by foreknowledge, and God foreknew Jacob's faith, how do you prove that he did not elect him for his works? Neither Jacob nor Esau had yet believed, because they were not yet born and had as yet done neither good nor evil. But God foresaw that Jacob would believe? He could equally well have foreseen that he would do good works.... The reason for its not being of works was that they were not yet born, that applies also to faith; for before they were born they had neither faith nor works. The apostle, therefore, did not want us to understand that it was because of God's foreknowledge that the younger was elected to be served by the elder. He wanted to show that it was not of works, and he stressed that by saying, "When they were not yet born and had done neither good nor evil." He could have said, if he wished to, that God already knew what each was going to do. We have still to inquire why that election was made. It was not of works, because being not yet born they had done no works. But neither was it of faith, because they had not faith either. What, then, was the reason for it?

He develops the point.

But the question is whether faith merits a man's justification, whether the merits of faith do not precede the mercy of God; or whether, in fact, faith itself is to be numbered among the gifts of grace. Notice that in this passage when he said, "Not of works," he did not say, "but of faith it was said to her, the elder shall serve the younger." No, he said, "but of him that calleth." No one believes who is not called. God calls in his mercy, and not as rewarding the merits of faith. The merits of faith follow his calling rather than precede it. So grace comes before all merits. Christ died for the ungodly. The younger received the promise that the elder should serve him from him that calleth and not from any meritorious works of his own. The Scripture "Jacob have I loved" is true, but it was of God who called and not of Jacob's righteous works.

The discussion then introduces the idea of effective calling.

If he [Paul] said "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy," simply because a man's will is not sufficient for us to live justly and righteously unless we are aided by the mercy of God, he could have put it the other way round and said, "It is not of God that hath mercy, but of the man that willeth," because it is equally true that the mercy of God is not sufficient of itself, unless there be in addition the consent of our will. Clearly it is vain for us to will unless God have mercy. But I do not know how it could be said that it is vain for God to have mercy unless we willingly consent. If God has mercy, we also will, for the power to will is given with the mercy itself. It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. If we ask whether a good will is a gift of God, I should be surprised if anyone would venture to deny that. But because the good will does not precede calling, but calling precedes the good will, the fact that we have a good will is rightly attributed to God who calls us, and the fact that we are called cannot be attributed to ourselves. So the sentence "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy" cannot be taken to mean simply that we cannot attain what we wish without the aid of God, but rather that without his calling we cannot even will.

The position is clear. Whatever part divine foreknowledge may play in the granting of grace, that foreknowledge is not based on foreseen faith or works, but faith, love, and other graces come as a result of the efficacious calling of God, the outworking of the predestinating will of God based on the knowledge of his own mind.

In Augustine's work On the Predestination of the Saints, he refers to this exchange with Simplicianus, and many of the themes of the earlier work recur. But Augustine takes the argument a stage further to stress that behind the giving of grace is God's election and that men and women are thus predestined to the grace that they enjoy. Much of his language simply paraphrases Paul:

Therefore God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, predestinating us to the adoption of children, not because we were going to be of ourselves holy and immaculate, but He chose and predestinated us that we might be so. Moreover, He did this according to the good pleasure of His will, so that nobody might glory concerning his own will, but about God's will towards himself.... Because He Himself worketh according to His purpose that we may be to the praise of His glory, and, of course, holy and immaculate, for which purpose He called us, predestinating us before the foundation of the world. Out of this, His purpose, is that special calling of the elect for whom He co-worketh with all things for good, because they are called according to His purpose, and "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Rom 11:29).

There are a number of references to reprobation in this work and others. For example, "He saved them [the elect] for nothing. But to the rest who were blinded, as is there plainly declared, it was done in recompense. 'All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.' But His ways are unsearchable. Therefore the mercy by which He freely delivers, and the truth by which He righteously judges, are equally unsearchable." Such references are understandably muted, but for Augustine reprobation is not simply inferred from predestination but grounded in the biblical data, and the grounds for condemning the reprobate differ from the grounds for blessing the elect. All events are under God's providential control, but the term predestination is reserved by Augustine for the destining of men and women to salvation. God foreknows what he himself does not (and cannot) do—that is, acts of evil. He does not predestine such acts, but they are part of his providence.

One further point. In warmly embracing the Pauline ideas of Romans 9, Augustine faces head-on the question of divine equity in God's choice of some and not of others. Not for him an arbitrary God, however. Commenting on Rom 9:14 in his letter to Simplicianus, he says:

Let this truth, then, be fixed and unmovable in a mind soberly pious and stable in faith, that there is not unrighteousness with God. Let us also believe most firmly and tenaciously that God has mercy on whom he will and that whom he will he hardeneth, that is, he has or has not mercy on whom he will. Let us believe that this belongs to a certain hidden equity that cannot be searched out by any human standard of measurement, though its effects are to be observed in human affairs and earthly arrangements.

In his work On the Gift of Perseverance, Augustine also maintains, in accord with Paul's teaching in Romans 8, that not all who are given grace are given the grace to persevere but that by his inscrutable will God grants perseverance to some and yet not to others. So it is not possible for a person to know with certainty that he is called "until he has departed from this world." This may seem to be in strong contrast with Calvin's later emphasis on assurance, and yet Augustine's teaching on this point has parallels with Calvin's own recognition of "transitory faith... that lower working of the Spirit."

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

About 600 years later Anselm wrote his last major work, De Concordia (The Compatibility of God's Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Grace with Human Freedom), which provides good commentary regarding his views on predestination. He shares some of Augustine's peculiarities—an attachment to the privative notion of sin and evil, the use of the idea of merit,the possibility of falling from grace, the view of justification as moral renewal, and the strange idea that the number of the elect exactly corresponds with the number of the fallen angels. But there are differences: Anselm's concise, analytic style as well as his concern to harmonize foreknowledge and predestination with free will lead to the almost complete absence of a sense of mystery or of the struggle that Augustine had with the idea of predestination.

It would be rash to assume that Anselm was attempting the reconciliation of foreknowledge and predestination with libertarian freedom. Much that he says is consistent with compatibilism if he is understood as defending the part that the will plays in the reception and expression of divine grace against the view, which he explicitly refers to a number of times, that human beings are totally passive and treated by God impersonally. We will touch on this issue briefly below, though our main aim is to expound Anselm on predestination. We shall see that he follows Augustine fairly faithfully, even if their styles are dramatically different.

Divine foreknowledge is infallible and extends to all future things including the free actions of all his creatures (this mindset is what generates the problems that Anselm is addressing in De Concordia) and including those people whom God predestinates, as Paul teaches in Rom 8:29. God's foreknowledge is not caused by what exists: "If God owes his knowledge to things, it follows that they exist prior to his knowledge of them and that their existence is not owed to God. For they cannot owe their existence to God if God does not know them." Consequently, if God foreknows evil acts, then it seems that he causes them, a central problem addressed in De Concordia.

Predestination is the carrying into effect of what is foreknown. "It is, of course, beyond question that God's foreknowledge and predestination do not conflict, rather, even as God foreknows, so he predestines." "Predestination is the equivalent of pre-ordination or pre-establishment; and therefore to say that God predestines means that he pre-ordains, that is to bring about that something happen in the future." Therefore God's predestination embraces both good and evil acts. The difference between foreknowledge and predestination is basically the difference between God's mind and His will. Predestination is the purposing of certain individuals to grace and glory, namely those individuals "foreknown" by God. What Anselm has to say about grace throws light on the nature of predestination, in particular that its ground is not the foreseen merit or good standing of the one predestined.

As already noted, in his discussion of the place of the human will in the operation of divine grace on the soul, Anselm is combating two extremes: those who claim that the will has no part to play in this operation, and those who give autonomy to the will.

Therefore since we come upon some passages in sacred Scripture which seem to recommend grace alone and some which are considered to uphold free choice without grace, there have been certain proud individuals who have decided that the entire efficacy of our virtues rests upon our free choice alone and in our own day there are many who retain no hope whatsoever of the very existence of free choice.

The latter are not so much compatibilists as passivists, even fatalists, holding that divine grace is imparted apart from the will, not through the will renewed by grace. It is unwarranted to assume that by "free choice" in such a passage Anselm means libertarian freedom. Divine grace does not operate apart from the will, nor does the will independently receive divine grace, but grace works on and through the will. In the case of adults, "grace always aids one's innate free choice by giving it the uprightness which it may preserve by free choice, because without grace it achieves nothing toward salvation." It may seem, then, that the will autonomously cooperates to receive God's grace, for perhaps the gift of uprightness can be rejected. But no.

And even if God does not give grace to everyone, for "He shows compassion to whom he wills and hardens those he wills to harden" (Rom 9:18), still he does not give to anyone in return for some antecedent merit, for "who has first given to God and he shall be rewarded?" (Rom 11:35). But if by its free choice the will maintains what it has received and so merits either an increase of the justice received or power by way of a good will or some kind of reward, all these are the fruits of the first grace and are "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). It must all be attributed to grace, too, because "it is not of the one who wills, nor of the one who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Rom 9:16). For to all, except God alone, it is said: "What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it all, why do you boast as though you had not received it?" (1 Cor 4:7).

Anselm, no less than Augustine, notes the fact of reprobation, as in these words: "In fact he is said to harden people when he does not soften them and to lead them into temptation when he does not release them from it. Therefore there is no problem in saying that in this sense God predestines evil people and their evil acts when he does not straighten them out along with their evil acts." Once again the familiar Augustinian (and Pauline) themes are rehearsed; the same New Testament passages are relied upon.

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

We shall briefly consider two places where Thomas discusses predestination: Summa Theologiae 1.23, and Article 6 of his De Veritate. The treatments are similar. Thomas's thought is governed by two ideas. The first is that predestination is an eternal act, and the second is that it has those temporal effects intended by God, who plans and "sends" predestination, in the way an archer sends an arrow. In these respects predestination is an aspect of providence.

Clearly predestination is like the plan, existing in God's mind, for the ordering of some persons to salvation. The carrying out of this is passively as it were in the persons predestined, though actively in God. When considered executively in this way, predestination is spoken of as a "calling" and a "glorifying;" thus St. Paul says, "Whom he predestinated, them also he called and glorified."

Election and predestination are interrelated. The following extract summarizes the overall position.

By its very meaning predestination presupposes election, and election chosen loving. The reason for this is that predestination, as we have said, is part of Providence, which is like prudence, as we have noticed, and is the plan existing in the mind of the one who rules things for a purpose. Things are so ordained only in virtue of a preceding intention for that end. The predestination of some to salvation means that God wills their salvation. This is where special and chosen loving come in. Special, because God wills this blessing of eternal salvation to some, for, as we have seen, loving is willing a person good, chosen loving because he wills this to some and not to others, for, as we have seen, some he rejects.

Thomas also provides a full and clear account of reprobation.

The causality of reprobation differs from that of predestination. Predestination is the cause both of what the predestined expect in the future life, namely glory, and of what they receive in the present, namely grace. Reprobation does not cause what there is in the present, namely moral fault, though that is why we are left without God. And it is the cause why we shall meet our deserts in the future, namely eternal punishment. The fault starts from the free decision of the one who abandons grace and is rejected, so bringing the prophecy to pass, Your loss is from yourself, O Israel (Hos 13:9).

Even if predestination were granted in accordance with the foreseen merit in the ones predestined, such merits are themselves the product of divine predestinating grace. So predestination is not on account of any merits foreseen, but they are the cause of it only in the sense that they are part of the ordained divine sequence which begins in the calling of men and women and ends in their glorification.

The fact that God wishes to give grace and glory is due simply to His generosity. The reason for His willing these things that arise simply from His generosity is the overflowing love of His will for His end-object, in which the perfection of His goodness is found. The cause of predestination, therefore, is nothing other than God's goodness.

And so what about the place of free will?

God does not act on the will in the manner of one necessitating; for He does not force the will but merely moves it, without taking away its own proper mode, which consists in being free with respect to opposites. Consequently, even though nothing can resist the divine will, our will, like everything else, carries out the divine will according to its own proper mode. Indeed, the divine will has given things their mode of being in order that His will be fulfilled. Therefore, some things fulfill the divine will necessarily, other things, contingently; but that which God wills always takes place.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

In the Institutes Calvin said that predestination is that "by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death." God is the author of predestination; and, since God is eternal, predestination is "God's eternal decree, by which he has compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death."So each person is born already destined to life, or to death.

Predestination is an aspect of divine providence. (The fact that Calvin treats providence and predestination in different places in the Institutes ought not to mislead us. Providence as he treats it is intertwined with the destiny of the church.) Predestination here covers both predestination to grace and glory and reprobation. Election and predestination in the narrower sense seem to be used more or less interchangeably. For example, in Institutes 3.21.7 Calvin used "election" and "predestination," first as regards the nation of Israel, then of the chosen remnant within Israel, which the New Testament church is in the line of—that is, individual men and women destined not merely for temporary privileges but for eternal salvation:

Although it is now sufficiently clear that God by his secret plan freely chooses whom he pleases, rejecting others, still his free election has been only half explained until we come to individual persons, to whom God not only offers salvation but so assigns it that the certainty of its effect is not in suspense or doubt. These are reckoned among the unique offspring of God mentioned by Paul (cp. Rom 8:8; Gal 3:16 ff.). The adoption was put in Abraham's hands. Nevertheless, because many of his descendents were cut off as rotten members, we must, in order that election may be effectual and truly enduring, ascend to the Head, in whom the Heavenly Father has gathered his elect together, and has joined them to himself by an indissoluble bond.

More exactly, predestination in the narrower sense is the "handmaiden" of election. Not only is God the author of predestination; he is the source of it; that is, Calvin is emphatic that who are predestined does not depend on anything in them that God foreknows and that makes them deserve his mercy. As he put it, commenting on Rom 8:29, the foreknowledge of God "is not a bare prescience... but the adoption by which he had always distinguished his children from the reprobate." And again in his comment on Rom 11:2 ("God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew"), Calvin said, "By the verb foreknow is not to be understood a foresight, I know not of what, by which God foresees what sort of being any one will be, but that good pleasure, according to which he has chosen those as sons to himself, who, being not yet born, could not have procured for themselves his favour." These are the remnant, chosen by grace (v. 5). Here, for Calvin, such foreknowledge is not simply causative but also graciously causative.

The divine plan of salvation was founded on "his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth." God does not predestine a person to salvation because he foreknows that person's meritorious works, or faith, or anything else that is "worthy" about that person that might provide a reason God would discriminate in the person's favor. Such discrimination is grounded in God's judgment although that judgment is "incomprehensible,"not in the sense that it is incoherent, but in the sense that it is unfathomable, and perhaps necessarily unfathomable, by us. The sense of mystery, vividly present in Augustine (and of course, in the apostle Paul), but muted in Anselm and Aquinas, returns in Calvin. So predestination is "secret," and thus a person cannot know whether he is predestined to life by a priori reasoning, or by directly divining God's will, but only a posteriori, through one's relationship to Christ.

God's unchangeable plan in willing the end of the salvation of the church also wills the means, which is "intrinsically effectual unto salvation for these spiritual offspring alone." Those on whom God has eternally planned to show such mercy are, in time, called and justified. Calvin emphasizes that the "golden chain" of Romans 8 is unbreakable. "Among the elect we regard the call as a testimony to election. Then we hold justification another sign of its manifestation, until they come into the glory in which the fulfillment of that election lies."

In one of the few explicit references to Thomas Aquinas, Calvin took issue with him over a "subtlety." Thomas claimed that there is a sense in which God predestines glory on account of merits, namely if these merits are themselves seen as the fruit of divine grace. Calvin called this an "absurd affection," a distraction from the main point, which is that in election we are to "contemplate nothing but [the Lord's] goodness." In any case the basic fact is a person's election to life. Predestination arises from election. Election to glory is the cause of predestination to grace, an order that we would be foolish in any way to qualify, as (in Calvin's view) this quibble of Thomas's was inclined to.

Calvin always acknowledged a dark side to predestination, reprobation. In electing some, God "passes over" others. As with Augustine, this passing over is not inferred from the fact of predestination; Calvin believed it is clearly taught in Scripture in its own right. The God who reprobates is not the fictional God of "absolute might," for "the will of God is not only free of all fault but is the highest rule of perfection, and even the law of all laws." Though the "passing over" is due only to God's will, nevertheless the ground of condemnation of those passed over lies in their own guilt. "Their perdition depends upon the predestination of God in such a way that the cause and occasion of it are found in themselves." Why are those who are elected favored over those who are reprobated? "He who here seeks a deeper cause than God's secret and inscrutable plan will torment himself to no purpose."

Predestination and Scripture

The Christian church has confessed belief in divine predestination in the sense discussed not because it seemed like a good idea or because it could be proved by reason or because believing it would make life easier, but because it was found to be an integral and important feature of God's divine revelation of the gospel of God's grace in Christ.

Scripture teaches that the salvation has its source in eternal election. Predestination is not simply a logical corollary drawn by certain theologians from some other idea—say, the idea of grace—but is explicitly taught in its own right. Its origin is found in Israel's own election by an all-powerful, gracious God who disposes all things, including good and evil human agency, according to his purpose. As we have noted, however, the tradition concentrates on two texts in Paul, Romans 8-9 and Ephesians 1. Let us first consider these.

Predestination is personal and purposive, the destining of individual men and women to grace and glory through Jesus Christ. It is pre because this destining was divinely intended and fixed—"purposed in Himself" (Eph 1:9 NKJV)—"before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4 NKJV). Believers are predestined in Christ to the full enjoyment of the salvation he has obtained, through the application of the benefits of that work to them by the Spirit ("to the adoption as sons," Rom 8:23). It is a fully Trinitarian destining, motivated by grace and love, and not, as it is sometimes portrayed, the whimsical act of an arbitrary despot. This predestination according to God's electing purpose of those whom he foreknew issues in the so-called golden chain of Romans 8, where Paul argued that whom God foreknew he predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son: "And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified" (v. 30). This led Paul to exclaim, "If God is for us, who is against us?"—predestination to the end, but also of all the means that are necessary to accomplish that end, the chief of which is Jesus' death by crucifixion. Thus it is part of the apostolic witness that Christ's death at the hands of wicked men was accomplished by "God's determined plan and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23 HCSB; cp. 4:28).

As Paul makes clear, in predestining both the end and the means, the Lord predestines the elect to adoption and to holiness, the renewal of Christ's image in them. Election in Christ and all that this entails is both necessary and sufficient for attaining such states or goals. God's grace expressed in election and predestination must therefore be sufficiently powerful or efficacious to ensure these ends. So election provides not merely necessary causal conditions, for necessary conditions do not guarantee that anything comes to pass. God's grace provides necessary and sufficient causal conditions not only effectively to call the person in question out of spiritual death but also never subsequently to allow him to be separated from God's love (Rom 8:39). In the New Testament this is expressed as efficacious "calling" (1 Cor 1:26-28). It is irresistible and will overcome any opposition on the part of those who are predestined to enjoy the benefits of the golden chain. This irresistibility is to be understood chiefly in logical rather than psychological terms although it may have a psychological aspect. It is not that those whom God efficaciously calls never resist the workings of grace, never feel constrained, or never put up a fight. Rather, God's grace ensures that their minds will be renewed. (Of course, Scripture teaches that not all who are outwardly called, through preaching and testimony of various other kinds, are inwardly and effectively called in this sense.)

On these issues, Paul does not stand alone. In the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, after feeding the 5,000 and proclaiming himself to be the bread of life (John 6:35), Jesus probed the motives of those who were following him, noting that there were those who had seen him and yet had not believed (v. 36). He stated, "Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out" (v. 37). He confessed the unity of his will with the Father's, and finally announced, "This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (vv. 39-40 HCSB). The certainty and assurance of Jesus' statements—that all those the Father gives him will come to him, that He should lose none of those, and that he will raise them up on the last day—indicates sovereignty over the minds and circumstances of particular men and women.

Then there follow claims that are fundamentally important concerning the efficacy of divine grace, the efficacy of the call. At first it may seem that what Jesus went on to teach is that the divine "drawing" (v. 44) is only a necessary condition of a person's coming to Christ. "No one can come... unless the Father who sent me draws him" (v. 44 HCSB, see also v. 65). But there is more: "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father"— learned in the "drawing" of them, presumably—"comes to me." The certainty is based on the Father's activities—making known, drawing, and teaching—activities that are causally sufficient for a person's coming to Christ. They ensure that the person comes. Many are (outwardly) called; few are chosen. So not only Paul but John as well teaches the efficacy of the divine calling. This language recurs throughout the New Testament. At one point in his narrative of the apostolic preaching in Acts, Luke noted, almost laconically, "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48), and that Lydia received Paul's teaching because the Lord opened her heart (Acts 16:14).

Predestination bespeaks the eternal knowledge, power, goodness, and pervasive control of God, as well as his right to discriminate, efficaciously calling some and leaving others. What kind of God can be a predestinating God? In writing of God's preservation of his people in his grace, Paul stated that God causes all things to work together for their good, relating these things to one another so that they ensure rather than thwart his purpose for his people. This implies control over all contingencies that do or could affect the divine purpose, including the plans and actions of people hostile to or indifferent to it, as in the case of Christ's crucifixion. The Lord works these contingencies together, freely giving us all things (Rom 8:32-39). Even if we were to imagine that all these powers were not under God's direct control, Paul stated that God's power and wisdom and goodness and love are such that they are able to ensure that these things nevertheless do not separate believers from God's love. But of course they are under the direct control of God, for they are each creaturely powers, created things, upheld and bounded by the Creator. After having set out the scope of the gifts with which the believers have been blessed "with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ" (Eph 1:3 HCSB), Paul stated in Ephesians 1 that these blessings are "predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will" (v. 11 HCSB), a sovereign Lord in full control of everything that happens in the cosmos that he has created and sustains, and who has subjected all things to Jesus Christ (v. 22). This account of predestination thus entails what is sometimes called a meticulous or "no risk" view of providence.

But what about God's foreknowledge? Is what God foreknows the ground of predestination? Does not the customary juxtaposition of foreknowledge, predestination, and election (see Acts 2:23; 4:28; Rom 8:28; 1 Pet 1:1-2) point to this? We need to distinguish between what William Hasker has called "simple foreknowledge" and "the traditional view." "Simple foreknowledge" is the "foreknowledge that embraces all actual free choices, including those that are yet to be made." On such a view God knows by being informed from the occurrence or potential occurrence of all events, knowing the actual future event like a human spectator. By contrast Paul affirms that the source of predestination lies in God's foreknowing what he himself wills, as in Rom 11:2: "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew." Such foreknowledge is the source of predestination and perseverance, informing and guiding both.

So in the biblical view predestination is not based on what God foreknows that others shall choose to do but on his knowing what he himself purposes. Yet alongside the spine of the church's teaching on predestination there have been those who have claimed that predestination is based on God's foreknowledge of what use people will make of his grace, or (in more evangelical versions of the objection) on his foreknowledge of their faith in Christ. They no doubt want to pay some respect to the idea of predestination as it is to be met in the pages of the New Testament, but they also want to give prominence to the idea of human autonomy. Foreknowing these decisions, whether they are meritorious or not, God then predestines them. But how can this be when Paul states that the purpose of predestination is to recreate in the image of Christ those who otherwise are dead in trespasses and in sins? As Augustine argued, this is Paul's precise point in his account of the different destinies of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9. In the womb each had done neither good nor evil, and so in order that God's purpose might stand, not of works, but of him who (effectively) calls (v. 11), the elder was destined to serve the younger. As Calvin succinctly put it, "If he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so."

What view of human agency does this Pauline and Johannine view of predestination imply? Here opinions differ. Some, perhaps the majority of those who accept this view, have seen compatibilism to be more consistent with predestination, harmonizing both with the idea of an all-encompassing divine decree and with the efficacious work of God's grace in regeneration and sanctification. Others, perhaps the minority, who may have not only the biblical teaching of predestination in mind but also the entrance of evil in a world made good by God, have been libertarians. Hence the long history of discussion as to whether divine foreknowledge and human freedom are compatible. What is important for our purposes is not to attempt to arbitrate in that debate here since it involves an issue in anthropology rather than in the doctrine of God, but to note that this difference of opinion reflects the fact that the Bible does not teach a doctrine of human agency that clearly falls either into the libertarian or into the determinist family in the way that it clearly teaches the doctrine of predestination. So Christians are free to adopt, as their opinion, either compatibilism or libertarianism about human agency in a way that they are not free to deny Paul's teaching on predestination.

Alongside the biblical teaching that God is pervasively sovereign are abundant biblical references to a more anthropomorphic view of God who "comes down," learns, and "repents." What are we to make of such language? Is the Bible at odds with itself, on the one hand teaching eternal election and predestination, on the other portraying a God who changes His mind?

We should note three points. First, a strong doctrine of divine sovereignty undergirds the biblical narratives in which such language occurs. Examples are the patriarchal narratives in Genesis. Second, the "real time" impact of what God says to Abraham, Jonah, Hezekiah, and others tests them to elicit their faith and increase their self-knowledge. This means that what God has decreed for them can only be revealed little by little. Third, words such as those of God to Hezekiah, which from a grammatical point of view seem to be unconditional predictions, are better understood as implicitly conditional divine speech-acts that warn rather than predict.

The Other Perspectives

Having set out a historical overview of the spine of Christian belief about predestination, along with its scriptural basis, we shall now look at the various "deviant" positions, how they understand predestination, and what doctrine of God each of these deviations implies.

Open Theism

In keeping with our emphasis on predestination as a test case for a doctrine of God, we shall confine our attention to John Sanders's treatment of divine sovereignty in chapter 7 of his book The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence and then examine his interpretation of the key texts in Romans 8-9 and Ephesians 1.

The sharp difference of approach when compared to that of the tradition is at once apparent. Sanders stresses that he is not interested in a "preconceived" notion of God but in one that corresponds to the types of relations that God has freely chosen to establish. He thinks God wants mutual fellowship and so had to create a world that involves reciprocal relations between personal agents, that is, between all personal agents, including God Himself. While the relation between God and ourselves is personal and reciprocal, it is not equal because God does much more than we do in establishing and maintaining the relationship. Nonetheless, Sanders asserted, "I suggest that God has sovereignly established the rules of the game for personal relations of fellowship, not manipulative or contractual relations."Libertarian freedom is "a necessary condition for a loving relationship." Sanders's reasons for adopting this reciprocal view are that it alone does justice to certain portrayals of God in Scripture, of God as being grieved, changing His mind, resorting to alternative plans, being open and responsive to what men and women freely do, and so on. He denies what he calls God's "specific sovereignty," that "God always gets precisely what he desires in each and every situation." But as we shall see, it is Sanders's view that is "preconceived," driven by a nonnegotiable affirmation of libertarian freedom. It is a paradox of this view that although God wishes to establish personal relations with men and women, he cannot unless these creatures "admit" him. If creatures alone can open and close the door, they, not God, have sovereignty. Election therefore remains an abstraction, an unfulfillable possibility—no one is ever elected.

A fallacy lurks in Sanders's language at this point. To say that the traditional view of divine sovereignty is that God always gets precisely what he desires in each and every situation is extremely misleading. As seen in our discussion of the A team, Calvin, and Scripture, what God wills is the total order of things, but this does not imply that he desires, in exactly the same sense, each separately identifiable part of that order. That would be like supposing that each thread of my tartan tie must be tartan, or that each daub of a beautiful painting must itself be beautiful.

Sanders's own proposal is that God exercises "general sovereignty," establishing certain structures—an overall framework—within which he and his human creatures freely interact. "God desires a relationship of love with his creation and so elects to grant it the freedom to enter into a give-and-take relationship with himself," which is a relationship of risk for God, for he might not get what he wants. Within this framework of macromanagement, God also, from time to time, micromanages and thus brings about specific events such as the exodus of Israel and the incarnation of the Son. But otherwise we live in a world in which there is pointless evil, in which much happens that is not a part of God's plan.

As noted, central to Sanders's conception of such general sovereignty is a libertarian or indeterminist account of human freedom. His model requires it; it is indispensable to his system. He put the point strongly. "Libertarian freedom is understood as the infrastructure of covenantal love. It is a necessary condition for a loving relationship, since love cannot be forced: material freedom presupposes libertarian freedom." According to this view, it is within an agent's power with respect to any given free action either to perform the action or to refrain from it. He says that if we are to take the language of Scripture seriously, then another view of human freedom (than compatibilism) must be affirmed.But as we have noted, Scripture does not affirm this view of freedom any more than it affirms compatibilism. Nevertheless, it is clear that Sanders's development of a model of divine human relations in terms of reciprocal personal relations is controlled or governed by a philosophical doctrine.

As a consequence of his commitment to libertarianism, Sanders avows that God cannot know all of the future, despite the many biblical statements to the contrary. For example, Isaiah 42:9 tells us, "New things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (NKJV). Isaiah 44:7 affirms, "Who is like Me?...Let him proclaim and declare it;...and the events that are going to take place" (NASB). In Isaiah 46:10 God states that He is "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (NKJV). Sanders claims that sometimes, such as when human beings still have a choice to make, there is no definite future for God to know. Once again, the plain assertions of Scripture are being modified or reinterpreted, this time in terms of a philosophical doctrine about time that Sanders calls "presentism." According to presentism only the present moment is real, and so God knows the past and the present but there is no exhaustively definite future for God to know.Instead, God attempts to "know the future" by knowing the past and the present and by trying to forecast the future from his knowledge of the present situation.

If God exercises only the kind of general sovereignty that Sanders indicates, then there appears to be some question whether, given that God has certain "overarching purposes,"they will be fulfilled. Despite his claim that God can "micromanage," since he cannot do this too often and leave us free, why can't his will be continually thwarted? Even if God is omnicompetent and resourceful, replacing plans which fail with other plans, there is no guarantee that these other plans will succeed. Must his improvisations in the face of human freedom enjoy greater success than his original plans? Perhaps the answer is yes, if those objectives are sufficiently vague. God brings the Gentiles into the people of faith, but he cannot bring any particular Gentile into the faith, and he cannot guarantee that any Gentile at all will be among the people of faith. God's purposes have an "ultimate direction."

In several places Sanders borrowed the language of the tradition to which he is not entitled, given his views about human freedom and God's providence. Thus to say that "Christ has brought about our redemption, changing lives and societies" is to use the language of efficacious grace but to use it in a setting which in fact denies the possibility of such unilateral redemption. His claims that God fulfills his promises of redemption also come from the tradition that he repudiates. Similarly, in stating that we may have faith in God's promises, it is not at all clear what such faith is grounded in. As he said, in words that are more consistent with his overall position, "God is working within the rules of the game he established to overturn the results of sin, and so it is quite possible that God may not get everything he wants."

Sanders offers little or nothing by way of a positive interpretation of divine predestination or divine foreknowledge, even when this is understood as limited to God's knowledge of a future much of which is outside his control. The nearest he comes to an interpretation is an excursus on predictions and foreknowledge as part of his discussion of the New Testament data. According to Sanders, divine foreknowledge has to do exclusively with the incarnation and with the electing of a people of God, not with exhaustive foreknowledge of future contingencies. "When God is said to have foreknowledge, the object of the divine knowledge is either Jesus Christ or the people of God (as a group)." But given the tenets of open theism even to claim this much seems unwarranted.

How does Sanders handle those passages in which divine election and predestination and election are affirmed, Romans 8-9 and Ephesians 1, for example? He nowhere considers the full sweep of the "golden chain" of Romans 8. For him, Romans 8:28 means not that God works all things together for the good of his people but that he is working good in all things, and the outcome is not guaranteed. But then what becomes of Paul's argument that the people God predestines to be conformed to the image of Christ he also calls, justifies, and glorifies? In Sanders's view, when Paul says that God chose us in Christ beforehand (Eph 1:4), this can only refer to "corporate election." Sanders explains, "According to corporate election it is the group—the body of Christ—that is foreordained from the foundation of the world... for salvation," not specific individuals elected by God.But he misses the point that the Ephesian believers were chosen in Christ, not that they chose Christ in an indeterministically free fashion and so became members of an elect body whose members could, if choices had gone the other way, have had more or fewer or different members, or no members at all. How on Sanders's view can God guarantee the salvation of anyone?

Sanders interprets Romans 9-11 as referring solely to God's historical covenant, and so as having a purely historical, temporal reference. As part of the covenant, "God freely chose Isaac and Jacob rather than Ishmael and Esau to be the people through whom he would fulfill his promised redemption." But then the manner of that election (something that Sanders does not dwell on) is clearly indicated by Paul (at least in the case of Jacob and Esau). It was a choice that Jacob did not have to ratify by freely reciprocating, but a unilateral election of him rather than of his twin brother. And according to Paul the choice was made "that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls" (Rom 9:11 NKJV). Even if we suppose that the passage is restricted in scope in the way Sanders claims, it teaches unilateral election (and reprobation) and that God's gracious election extends to the individuals to whom Paul was writing, vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:29). Sanders's relational God limits himself, or is limited, in the interests of preserving libertarian freedom. He is not "God the Father almighty."


In contrast with open theism, Arminianism attempts to formulate doctrines of divine foreknowledge and predestination. For both the tradition and Arminianism, the number of the elect is unalterably fixed. Yet, as we shall see, the Arminian account of divine foreknowledge is fundamentally different from that of the tradition. God elects those whom he foreknows will, of their own free will, come to Christ. God may provide varying degrees of assistance, depending on the variety of Arminianism in question, but not even the strongest degree of such assistance infringes upon the will's freedom to choose Christ or (at the same moment) freely reject him.

In attempting such formulations of the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human libertarian freedom, many Arminians currently employ the doctrine of middle knowledge, a tactic which, as we have noted, goes back to Arminius himself. We shall briefly consider such a version of Arminianism in what follows, although it is unnecessary for us to enter the debate about the intelligibility or plausibility of the idea of middle knowledge itself. We shall simply consider the sort of doctrine of grace and predestination that Molinism delivers.

Middle knowledge is the view that besides the knowledge God has of all possibilities—known as his natural knowledge—and the knowledge he has of what he freely wills or decrees—known as his free knowledge—God also has knowledge of what possible human creatures, possessed of libertarian freedom, would freely do if placed in various circumstances. Guided by this knowledge, God wills that particular world order which overall suits his purposes. What attracts many to middle knowledge is that it promises a scheme which will preserve both libertarian free will and "perfect providence."

A central feature of middle knowledge is that God deals in "world orders"—or sets of possible worlds. The various possible worlds that God knows by his middle knowledge are not created or willed by him. His knowledge of that possible world which he creates depends on what the free creatures in that world would do were that world to be the actual world. God selects the world which best realizes the ideals that he wants exemplified. This has significant theological implications.

For one thing it reverses the order of explanation of human actions. In the tradition God's decreeing of human actions is sufficient for the occurrence of those actions logically prior to the disclosure of his revealed will, the contents of which and the reaction to which serve to fulfill his decree. Everything is ultimately explained by reference to the divine decree. For Molina, on the other hand, human actions are not explicable in terms of God's prior decree, but his prior decree is explicable in terms of the possible free actions, creaturely and divine, which God knows by his middle knowledge, some of which he then creates.

Divine foreknowledge operates in a similar way. Given middle knowledge, divine foreknowledge cannot be God's only knowledge of what he then decrees. Rather, it includes knowledge of what he cannot decree, the exact outcomes of his creatures' free actions. Selecting one of these possible outcomes, God brings it to pass and as a consequence foreknows it. In middle knowledge, the idea of God's two wills is also reversed. God's absolute will, which is that no creature should sin, is subordinated to the world order that God chooses to create, a world whose choice is partly (as we noted) determined in the light of God's middle knowledge of the free creaturely choices that will be made in that world in reaction to his revealed will. Yet in the tradition God's decreeing of human actions is logically prior to the disclosure of his revealed will to His creatures.

Despite all this the Molinist may appear to endorse the tradition. For example, Molina upheld a doctrine of particular providence. But in what sense? God is concerned with the particular because of the respect he has for the particular choices of libertarian freedom and because he knows by his middle knowledge how they fit into the overall scheme of things, the rest of that particular world order. Yet in the tradition predestination is the destining of a fixed number of people, those chosen by God, to eternal salvation. For the Molinist the predestination of individuals is based on God's foreknowledge of what, if they were created, they would freely do; and his decision to create them is based on whether predestining those individuals (i.e., creating that world in which they freely choose for Christ and so are predestined) is part of that possible world that he chooses to create. "The act of predestination is simply God's instantiating one of the world orders known to him via his middle knowledge." However, the fact that Scripture contains statements of God's knowledge of what would have happened if things had been different (examples are 1 Sam 23:8-14 and Matt 11:21-24) does not establish middle knowledge. It only underscores the fact that God could have decreed what he has not in fact decreed.

The gap between the tradition and Arminianism may appear to close further because according to Molinism predestination is gratuitous in that it is not based on foreseen merit. This is because the choice of those predestined is subordinated to that particular "world order" that God determines. So their being predestined (and not others) is simply a logical consequence for certain individuals of God's choice of world order x (a world which, as it happens, includes them and the good use they'll freely make of God's grace) rather than world order y (a world in which they make a bad use of grace). "Given God's immutable determination to create a certain order, those who God knew would respond to his grace are predestined to be saved." That is, their predestination to salvation is logically subordinate to that world being created.

By contrast we have noted that the tradition upholds the New Testament teaching that personal election, based on God's knowledge of his own will, is fundamental to an understanding of predestination. Predestination is fundamentally concerned with the destining of certain individuals to eternal salvation, those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, just those individuals (no more and no less) eternally chosen for that end. But clear New Testament statements regarding predestination, when they are "Molinised," fall within a framework of divine middle knowledge about which these New Testament texts say or imply nothing. Rather, the New Testament argues that the world order decreed by God is for the glory of God and for the ultimate benefit of the predestined: "All things are yours" (1 Cor 3:21-23 HCSB). "All this is because of you" (2 Cor 4:15 HCSB). "All things work together for the good" (Rom 8:28 HCSB). As noted earlier, Thomas Aquinas echoed this New Testament emphasis. So according to Scripture and tradition, God's reason for choosing that world order is chiefly that just these, and no others, are predestined. There are many possible worlds in which others are chosen and predestined than those who in fact, in the actual world, are chosen. None of these worlds is created.

But according to Craig, God's ultimate ends do not include the salvation of the elect. Craig offers this opinion about Molina's attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom:

He [God] directly causes certain circumstances to come into being and others indirectly by causally determined secondary causes. Free creatures, however, he allows to act as he knew they would when placed in such circumstances, and he concurs with their decisions in producing in being the effects they desire. Some of these effects God desires unconditionally and so wills positively that they occur, but others he does not unconditionally desire, but nevertheless permits them because of his overriding desire to allow creaturely freedom and knowing that even these sinful acts will fit into the overall scheme of things so that God's ultimate ends in human history will be accomplished.

On middle knowledge there cannot be a personal election that is wholly of grace. For according to Molinism the efficacy of grace is not to be found in the inefficacious divine call itself, which issues from the decree of election, but in what men and women will freely do with the divine call that they receive, and how this fits into the overall best world order.

So much for mainline Molinism. Cr