Monday, October 15, 2012

Is reprobation conditional or unconditional?

Since this issue continues to crop up, I’ll discuss it from another angle. I’ve often read Arminians claim that Calvinism subscribes to unconditional reprobation. I don’t see them quoting any representative Reformed theologians to that effect. Rather, they apparently infer that if election is unconditional, then, by parity of argument, reprobation must be unconditional. However, that’s a fallacious inference.

The question of whether or not reprobation is unconditional suffers from a couple of ambiguities or equivocations.

i) To begin with, Reformed theologians classically subdivide reprobation into two distinct decrees or divine acts (i.e. timeless mental acts). As Berkhof puts it:

Preterition is a sovereign act of God, an act of his mere good pleasure, in which the demerits of man do not come into consideration, while precondemnation is a judicial act, visiting sin with punishment Even supralapsarians are willing to admit that in condemnation sin is taken into consideration.

Systematic Theology, 116. Turretin has a more detailed analysis. Cf. Institutes, 1:380ff.

Recasting this is philosophical jargon, we’d say preterition is unconditional whereas predamnation is conditional. (Called “predamnation” rather than “damnation” because we’re dealing with God’s timeless decree, whereas damnation occurs in time.)

ii) The term “conditional” is also ambiguous without further definition. For instance, Turretin says:

The question is whether the decree of reprobation is absolute from a cause properly so-called (immediate and external) by which God was influenced out of himself to reprobate man (1:382). 

Here, “absolute” is a synonym for unconditional.

For instance, in 1 Cor 1-3, Paul talks about God disproportionately electing or reprobating certain social classes. One might be tempted to say that makes election conditional, but that’s ambiguous–for in this case, God creates the distinguishing conditions. God determines when, where, and to whom you will be born. So God isn’t electing or reprobating individuals on account of their social class, as if that’s an independent variable. It’s not “conditional” in that sense.

Likewise, both Calvinists and Arminians say faith is a necessary condition of salvation. But in the case of Calvinism, faith is not an external factor which affects or effects the divine response. Rather, faith is a divine gift. That’s a condition which God himself supplies and satisfies.

In both cases, the condition is ultimately contingent or dependent on divine agency. Not something God responds to. Rather, our responsiveness, or lack thereof, is the result of divine agency.

Likewise, God can have reasons for electing one sinner and reprobating another sinners. But these are his reasons. They don’t take their source of origin in the creature. If God differentiates one creature from another, God made them different in the first place.


  1. Well said. I was thinking of Judas as the reprobate of all reprobates, and yet Jesus was his Friend, and what must it have felt like for our Master to be betrayed by a disciple and friend? Though of course our Lord knew the son of perdition well enough.
    I have to always take a step back when we set forth these deepest of all Holy Writ doctrines.

    It is sad when some of the pastor-teachers in the Church don't do the same, as David Jerimiah is doing as of late. I cringe when I hear him teach "God has always loved you, and He always will love you." And this is true of every sinner who every was, and ever will be.
    Bold. Scary.

  2. William Perkins chart places reprobation above the fall.

    Apparently he equated reprobation with what Berkoff calls preterition. But that's semantics. If preterition, is God's decision that this person will be in hell then it doesn't seem to make much difference. Reprobation becomes a red herring - we should look to preterition.

    God be with you,

    1. It makes a difference concerning the grounds for punishment. Preterition is non-election, not punishment. The latter is a distinct issue.

    2. Steve,


      God be with you,

    3. Steve,

      Did god choose actively who would be saved and damned on the basis of their sins?

      "Even supralapsarians are willing to admit that in condemnation sin is taken into consideration."

      But isn't the decree of election and reprobation before the fall? I don't know if I understood.

    4. Sin is a necessary condition for condemnation. Reprobation includes condemnation. Since, however, everyone is a sinner, that's not the basis for why some are chosen and others rejected.

      The decrees have a means/ends relation. It's not chronological.