Luther and Calvin on Predestination (Church History) 2
Hi fam! I trust you are doing great! Still on Church History, Luther and Calvin on the subject of predestination. Let’s get right to it. Enjoy!
PS: If you haven’t read the prequel, please do. There’s a link to it at the bottom of this page.
Luther and Calvin on Predestination
Let’s delve into some careful language as to what we mean by “Predestination” in terms of theology before we get down deep into what Luther and Calvin said about the doctrine of Predestination and the place where they differ. First off, we have to understand that when it comes to what God knows and is sovereign over, the two traditional doctrines that people affirm or the two traditional places where people discuss God’s sovereignty usually fall into two categories; the first is the subject of what God does in the salvation of individuals. So, for the sake of explanation, Let’s take a basic person, John, and let’s say that he converts. In hindsight, he has never heard the name of Christ before, but on hearing the Gospel, he converts, and now he is a Christian and the rest of his life is lived in the grace and mercy of the Gospel, in the context of the church.
Well, the first place, again, as we discuss this issue of “Predestination”, is here in this context; it is simply when John has converted, did he somehow invite God into his heart, and then, God agreed and moved to save him, justify him, etcetera? Or was there some pre-movement by God that saved us, called us, and rescued us? Essentially, this subject is the classic doctrine of “Predestination”. In other words, “Predestination” does not have in play the question fundamentally as to whether or not God is in control of all events. Is God in control of the words I am writing right now, did He sovereignly cause them to come about, did He bring them about, did He plan for you to read this article right now?
Those issues are not in play when discussing the doctrine of “Predestination” in the classical sense. In other words, “Predestination” does not have in play the question of fatalism. Biblical historian scholars often tell their students that the question with regard to the doctrine of “Predestination” is who moved first; you or God? If God moved first, if He sovereignly changed the disposition of your heart, bring something about in your life that causes you to then have a heart of flesh, taking out that heart of stone, if he has given you the ears to hear the Gospel in the first place. Well, that is what is in play with the doctrine of “Predestination”.
On the other side of the equation though, is the subject of whether God’s role is in the context of certain events. But here’s the thing, when we are discussing the doctrine of God’s sovereignty classically, we are not discussing first and foremost, at least, not typically, not until well after the reformation, we are not discussing, first off, God’s control over every single event. People do discuss this, this is one of the subjects that comes about. However, on the subject of whether or not God is in control of things, that subject is usually ranged under the subject of where is God in the midst of evil.
Put differently, no one doubts that God is in control when things are good; if there is a blessing, when something good happens, people say thanks be to God, no problem, everyone is fine with God being in control of good events. The question people usually have or ask is where was He when the nuclear bomb went off in our life, where was He on 9/11, where was He when the tsunami hit? Quite painful questions! And the instinct of all Christians is never to say that God was asleep at the wheel, that He lacked control, that He was unable to stop it in some fundamental sense. And so, the big debate or the big question on that side of the equation is always where is GOD in the midst of trouble.
So, you can see right here that the issue we are discussing is “Predestination”, we are discussing salvation. when John came to faith, the question is who moved first? And this has an enormous practical pastoral issue built within it because as both the debate tends to go, and frankly as some of the Scripture seems to indicate. If there is some way of saying that we effected our own salvation, then it will seem to be the case that the entirety of the Christian life is lived out in the effort to maintain that salvation or else, we might fall away. Those who tend to go for “Predestination”; Calvin, Luther, Cranmer, Augustine, etcetera, tend to see the problem here, and they see it as a problem in Scripture and the places in Scripture where the doctrine of Predestination is discussed,
Very often, those who fall into the predestinarian camp in a general sense, want to say that “I did not choose God, I was dead in my sins, I was far away, He rescued me, therefore, the fruits of the Christian life that I see, things like sanctification, deep love of Christ, the on-going effects of the Christian life are not, first and foremost, dependent on me because I did not move first”. All of the reformers in the first generation, had some doctrine of “predestination” built within their system. And since the doctrine of “Predestination” is first and foremost about who moved first, did God give me ears to hear the Gospel before I actually heard it and embraced it? Well, if that’s the context, is it okay to say that Calvin and Luther differ on the doctrine of “Predestination”?