I'm currently in Book 3, Chapter 21 of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is where he puts forth his comprehensive teaching on the doctrines of predestination and election. I'm still fairly early in his discussion, but so far I'm finding his teaching to be sober, balanced, careful, and non-speculative—all the things that are commendable about him. Instead of forcefully plowing ahead and asserting his point of view, he is careful to let the Bible speak its own words without forcing them into his conclusion. Whether you accept his teaching of double predestination and of unconditional election to salvation versus unconditional reprobation, you can't knock his method.
There are three thoughts that come to mind about my own prejudices concerning this topic. I need to get them out in the open.
First, I am completely comfortable with the idea that salvation is purely by God's free, unmerited mercy without reference to anything I can do, have done, or will do. That sinners accept salvation is totally dependent on God's decision; it is God's means of securing for the elect the end to which He has destined them.
I am not comfortable, however, with the inverse—that our damnation is purely by God's eternal decree and is without reference to the sins that the damned can commit, have committed, or will commit. That people are recalcitrant sinners is God's will; it is His means of securing for the reprobate the end to which He has destined them.
To sum up, I accept that salvation is totally unmerited, but I cannot wrap my head around a damnation that is not conditioned at rock bottom on our sins. I know I can't deserve my salvation, but, if I'm going to be damned, at rock bottom I damn well want to deserve it.
Second, I am not a disinterested party. Granted, I am confident in my own election (looking at the testimonies the Scriptures, the sacraments, and covenant give and my subjective experience of God's grace to me, I have assurance of God's favor-this is a whole other issue, can Christians know for sure if they are "saved"?), but, as a human being, I find disconcerting the notion that at bottom God does not have loving intentions for all of his human creatures. Though I trust that God has saved me, is saving me, and shall save me, I still have an interest in the existential plight of fellow human beings. There's that whole, "Love your neighbor as yourself" thing, you know.
Intellectually, the above is a strike against my ability to make an objective decision regarding the actual teaching of Scripture on this matter. Hopefully, the fact that I am aware of my a priori prejudices can help even this out.
Finally, even if I do not come to accept double predestination as objectively, propositionally true, if one believes, for whatever reason, that he or she is elect, I agree with Calvin that this doctrine should produce humility and gratitude toward God rather than presumption. If it results in presumption, on the other hand, I guess the good circular Calvinist answer would be that it proves the reprobation of the ungrateful sinner who uses it to presume upon God's grace.
At any rate, certain biblical passages do seem to teach at face value unconditional reprobation. Even if the explicit words of such passages are not literally word-for-word true, these passages can still be useful not as timeless, propositional truths but as inducements to bow in humility and gratitude before God that He has chosen to show such mercy to pitiful creatures he could just as easily have chosen to damn. Still, if this scenario were the case, I would worry that it would still paint God to be unjust and amoral and induce us to worship Him just for His benefits to us and not for His intrinsic nature. We shall see.
3 weeks ago