“A horrible decree.” “Most ruthless statement.” “A terrible theological theory.” “An illegitimate inference of logic.” These and other similar epithets have been used frequently to articulate displeasure and revulsion at the Reformed doctrine of double predestination. Particularly abhorrent to many is the notion that God would predestinate (in any sense) the doom of the reprobate.
The “Double” of Predestination
The goal of this essay is not to provide a comprehensive analysis, exposition, or defense of the doctrine of election or predestination. Rather, the essay is limited to a concern for the “double” aspect of predestination with particular reference to the question of the relationship of God’s sovereignty to reprobation or preterition.
The use of the qualifying term “double” has been somewhat confusing in discussions concerning predestination. The term apparently means one thing within the circle of Reformed theology and quite another outside that circle and at a popular level of theological discourse. The term “double” has been set in contrast with a notion of “single” predestination. It has also been used as a synonym for a symmetrical view of predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked out in a parallel mode of divine operation. Both usages involve a serious distortion of the Reformed view of double predestination.
Viewing double predestination as a distinction from single predestination may be seen in the work of Emil Brunner. Brunner argues that it is impossible to deduce the doctrine of double predestination from the Bible. He says:
The Bible does not contain the doctrine of double predestination, although in a few isolated passages it seems to come close to it. The Bible teaches that all salvation is based on the eternal Election of God in Jesus Christ, and that this eternal Election springs wholly and entirely from God’s sovereign freedom. But wherever this happens, there is no mention of a decree of rejection. The Bible teaches that alongside of the elect there are those who are not elect, who are “reprobate,” and indeed that the former are the minority and the latter the majority; but in these passages the point at issue is not eternal election but “separation” or “selection” in judgment. Thus the Bible teaches that there will be a double outcome of world history, salvation and ruin, Heaven and hell. But while salvation is explicitly taught as derived from the eternal election, the further conclusion is not drawn that destruction is also based upon a corresponding decree of doom.1
Here Brunner argues passionately, though not coherently, for “single” predestination. There is a decree of election, but not of reprobation. Predestination has only one side—election. In this context, double predestination is “avoided” (or evaded) by the dialectical method. The dialectical method which sidesteps logical consistency has had a pervasive influence on contemporary discussions of double predestination. A growing antipathy to logic in theology is manifesting itself widely. Even G.C. Berkouwer seems allergic to the notion that logic should play a role in developing our understanding of election.
It is one thing to construct a theology of election (or any other kind of theology) purely on the basis of rational speculation. It is quite another to utilize logic in seeking a coherent understanding of biblical revelation. Brunner seems to abhor both.
Let us examine the “logic” of Brunner’s position. He maintains that (1) there is a divine decree of election that is eternal; (2) that divine decree is particular in scope (“There are those who are not elect”); (3) yet there is no decree of reprobation. Consider the implications. If God has predestined some but not all to election, does it not follow by what Luther called a “resistless logic” that some are not predestined to election? If, as Brunner maintains, all salvation is based upon the eternal election of God and not all men are elect from eternity, does that not mean that from eternity there are non-elect who most certainly will not be saved? Has not God chosen from eternity not to elect some people? If so, then we have an eternal choice of non-election which we call reprobation. The inference is clear and necessary, yet some shrink from drawing it.
I once heard the case for “single” predestination articulated by a prominent Lutheran theologian in the above manner. He admitted to me that the conclusion of reprobation was logically inescapable, but he refused to draw the inference, holding steadfastly to “single” predestination. Such a notion of predestination is manifest nonsense.
Theoretically there are four possible kinds of consistent single predestination. (1) Universal predestination to election (which Brunner does not hold); (2) universal predestination to reprobation (which nobody holds); (3) particular predestination to election with the option of salvation by self-initiative to those not elect (a qualified Arminianism) which Brunner emphatically rejects; and (4) particular predestination to reprobation with the option of salvation by self-initiative to those not reprobate (which nobody holds). The only other kind of single predestination is the dialectical kind, which is absurd. I once witnessed a closed discussion of theology between H.M. Kuitert of the Netherlands and Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary. Kuitert went into a lengthy discourse on theology, utilizing the method of the dialectic as he went. When he was finished, Dr. Van Til calmly replied: “Now tell me your theology without the dialectic so I can understand it!” Kuitert was unable to do so. With Brunner’s view of predestination the only way to avoid “double” predestination is with the use of “double-talk.”
Thus, "single" predestination can be consistently maintained only within the framework of universalism or some sort of qualified Arminianism. If particular election is to be maintained and if the notion that all salvation is ultimately based upon that particular election is to be maintained, then we must speak of double predestination.
The much greater issue of “double” predestination is the issue over the relationship between election and reprobation with respect to the nature of the decrees and the nature of the divine outworking of the decrees. If “double” predestination means a symmetrical view of predestination, then we must reject the notion. But such a view of “double” predestination would be a caricature and a serious distortion of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.
The Double-Predestination Distortion
The distortion of double predestination looks like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are the monergistic work of God. Stated another way, we can establish a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry. We can call this a _positive-positiv_e view of predestination. This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.
This distortion of positive-positive predestination clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do. Such a view is indeed a monstrous assault on the integrity of God. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.
In sharp contrast to the caricature of double predestination seen in the positive-positive schema is the classic position of Reformed theology on predestination. In this view predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.
- Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950), p. 326.↩