Monday, September 04, 2006

Election & reprobation

I’ve noticed that some folks have a habit of equating double predestination with supralapsarianism, and then rejecting the former because they reject the latter.

I. Double Predestination

1.Their equation is fallacious. Double predestination is not synonymous with supralapsarianism. Rather, double predestination is synonymous with election and reprobation.

Double predestination is mainstream Calvinism. Here’s a classic statement:

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death” (WCF 3:3).

2.By contrast, Lutheranism is an example of a theological tradition which affirms single predestination by affirming election, but denying reprobation.

3.Election and reprobation are equally ultimate inasmuch as both election and reprobation predetermine the destiny of their respective parties.

4.However, to say that both are equally ultimate is not to say that election and reprobation are entirely symmetrical. There are a couple of basic differences:

i) Election is unconditional in the sense that human merit (or responsiveness) is not a necessary or sufficient condition of election. God does not choose according to human merit (or responsiveness).

By contrast, demerit is a necessary, but insufficient, condition of reprobation. It is insufficient inasmuch as everyone is sinful, so God does not damn anyone for that reason alone—otherwise, everyone would be damned.

It is, however, a necessary condition, for God doesn’t damn the innocent, but the guilty.

ii) There is also a difference in the way in which the appointed end is realized.

For example, regeneration is immediate. It’s a direct act of God, restoring the mind and will to recreate a godly predisposition.

However, hardening can operate by ordinary providence and second-causes. God has to do something extra special to make a sinner repent and believe the Gospel.

By contrast, God doesn’t have to do something extra special to make a sinner impenitent or incredulous.

The mere fact that he’s an unregenerate sinner is sufficient to insure a negative reaction, if left to his own devices.

And God can trigger a negative reaction by merely placing the reprobate in a situation whereby the exposure to spiritual truth will automatically occasion a negative reaction, given his prejudicial attitude toward the things of God.

On the one hand, the bare opportunity to hear the gospel is insufficient to engender faith. On the other hand, the same opportunity is sufficient to provoke a hostile reaction in the unregenerate.

Likewise, if you throw temptation in the path of the unregenerate, the only deterrent is fear of the consequences. If the unregenerate feel that they can sin with impunity, they’ll give in to temptation. As long as they can get away with it, no further inducement is required.

So regeneration and hardening are causally disanalogous.

II. The Infra/Supra Debate

1. The supra view presupposes double predestination, and proceeds to build on that foundation. But the infra view also presupposes predestination, and proceeds to build on that very same foundation.

So double predestination is not what distinguishes the two positions.

Rather, both positions are concerned with the teleology of the decree. How do certain predestined events correspond to other predestined events in a means-ends relation?

That’s the basic issue.

More specifically, what is the overarching purpose, if any, of the fall in the plan of God?

Although this debate may seem rather recondite, it centers on the problem of evil.

2. This is a rough outline of the difference between the supra and the infra ordering of the decrees:


i) Creation

ii) Fall

iii) Election/reprobation


i) Election/reprobation

ii) Fall

iii) Creation

3.The infra order mirrors the historical order. God makes the world. Adam sins. God rescues the elect from the fall.

The supras level two objections to the infra order:

4.There’s a general objection. Some supras contend that its nonsensical to equate a historical order with a teleological order, for the order of intention runs in reverse to the order of execution.

Consider when you plan your route to a particular destination. You mentally begin with your destination. Where do you want to end up? You then work backwards from there. What is the last road you take? What is the next to last road? And so on, until you have it all mapped out from your point of origin to your destination.

This is what we do with Map Quest. We begin by inputting where we’re leaving from and where we want to go.

The computer program then plots the most expeditious route to get from A to Z. But the sequence you take to actually drive there is not interchangeable with the teleological order.

5.Some Calvinists regard this argument as presumptuous or mischievous. Who are we to reconstruct what was “going on” in God’s mind?

To this I’d say two things:

i) That objection, if valid, cuts both ways. For the infra is also drawing inferences about the order of the decrees from the historical order of their instantiation.

So, even if it’s a valid objection to the supra view, the supra objection is still a valid objection to the infra view. It answers the infra on his own level.

ii) The general argument for the supra view, while logical and common sensical, is admittedly speculative. It’s not something given in Scripture. As such, we cannot be dogmatic.

5.In addition to the general objection there is a specific objection. And that is the theodicean aspect of the question.

In the infra view, the fall had a purpose in the tautological sense that God purposed it. It didn’t merely happen. It was part of God’s plan. It was bound to happen.

But, on the infra view, it doesn’t serve any overarching purpose. It doesn’t further a higher end.

By contrast, the fall does have a strategic place in the supra view. For the fall is the means by which God will manifest his mercy and justice.

And unlike the general argument for the supra view, this particular argument does enjoy some direct (e.g. Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22) and indirect (e.g. Ps 130:4; Jn 9:39; Rom 8:17,21-22) Scriptural warrant.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this post long ago and this topic came up again in a Bible study the other day and I spent a while searching this post out just to make sure I understand the positions clearly and can explain why I believe the supra over the infra.

    I just wanted to say thanks for posts like these. I find them highly informative and useful. Sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with some of the topics being discussed, but when I am able to understand something, it's worthwhile.