Predestination Again

I’ve been trying to explain the reasonableness of the biblical doctrine of predestination (more accurately, divine election), the biblical teaching that God chose us before the creation of the world to come to Christ in faith. [Cf. Ephesians chapter 1.] I’m not satisfied with my previous presentations, so here goes again:

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Picture someone who hates Christ. The head of ISIS, for example. Or the village atheist who trolls Christian websites. Anybody who hates Christianity.

Such people sometimes change their minds and come to faith in Christ. At one time they hated Christ, but later they changed their minds.

Question: What caused this change?

The answer that most quickly comes to mind is the following:  The former Christ-hater gradually began to notice that Christianity is good and makes sense. He began to sense his own sin and his inability to atone for his sins by good deeds. He began to see that Christ, as reported in the New Testament, is an intelligent, compassionate and powerful figure. He began to understand that the eyewitnesses could not have been fabricating their account of the life of Christ. And so on. He gradually began to be attracted to Christ.

But this answer is obviously false. People who hate Christianity don’t begin to notice that it’s good. The moment someone begins to notice that Christianity is good, his mind has already changed. So the above is no explanation of the cause of the change.

[Yes, some people change their minds and become attracted to false Christs, that is, false conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth.  But my main point still stands: “He began to notice Christianity’s good points” is a non-explanation.]

Therefore the honest person can only give two possible answers to the question “What caused this hater of Christianity to change his mind?”  Either “We don’t know,” or the answer given by the Bible, which is as follows:

All men are born enemies of God, even if have the outward appearance of piety. See, e.g., Ephesians 2:1 and Romans 3:9—18. They do not want to come to Christ with repentance and faith. But in the fullness of time, God grants to some the ability to respond in faith when they hear the message of the gospel. See, e.g., Ezekiel 36:26 and Ephesians 2:4—5. God changes people’s minds, without them having a sense that they are being manipulated (the change feels natural and self-caused), so that they no longer hate God and his son, Jesus Christ. They are now capable of responding to the gospel message with repentance toward God and faith in Christ.

The theological name for this act of God is “regeneration.” God regenerates some, giving them spiritual life, so that they are able to respond to the gospel message with repentance and faith.

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Let’s consider this point further. When it comes to what he knows, a man can change his mind by accumulating additional data and thinking about what this new data implies about the topic under consideration. He doesn’t always change his mind, but it’s possible for him to change his mind concerning what he knows.

But such is not true about what you want or what you love. No addition of facts or experiences or better arguments will change your mind in this sense, if you continue to want or love whatever it is that you want or love.

And therefore the conversion of unbelievers who hate Christ (which would be the default state of everyone) is a mystery which cannot be accounted for by positing that the subject gains additional facts, ideas or experiences. The conversion of an unbeliever must begin with an inward change of his desires, a change he initially does not desire. And since he does not desire this change, its origin cannot be explained by positing a purely internal source of change. We must believe the Biblical account of an unbeliever converted by an act of God softening his heart so that he no longer hates God and can respond in faith to the gospel.

You can say that the human soul is mysterious, with different desires and loves in competition, and that sometimes the dominant faction is overthrown by a rebellion, in which case the subject is now able to come to Christ. But this is to explain nothing. It’s a poetic way of saying that we cannot know the cause of the conversion. And since we cannot know the cause of the conversion by looking to humanly-derived knowledge, Christians have no choice but to believe the biblical account.

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Go back to the hypothetical Christ-hater. He once hated Christ but now God gives him the gift of faith. He comes to Christ in faith and his sins are forgiven. He is saved.

Notice this:  God could have planned to do it before he did it, couldn’t he? God is powerful enough to control whatsoever comes to pass, so he is powerful enough to plan to save the hard-hearted Christ-hater weeks before he does it. Or months. Or centuries.

And that’s predestination to salvation, isn’t it?  You cannot say that it doesn’t happen that way because you cannot know how conversion happens without believing what God says about it in the pages of Scripture. The Bible says that God is the cause of salvation, and that he predestined it before the creation of the world.

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To me, all of this seems quite obvious, at least for those who profess to believe what the Bible says. But many Bible-believing Christians hate the idea of predestination to salvation. Since they have no empirical evidence that this doctrine is false, (none could possible exist, because there can be no empirical evidence indicating the methods of God) and since they say they believe the Bible, I have to presume that their opposition is based on moral or esthetic considerations; that it seems ugly or unfair for God to predestine.

To be sure, we don’t feel predestined. As far as we can perceive, it’s our choice that saves or damns us. When people first hear of predestination to salvation, they generally reject it. It seems weird. Counterintuitive. But a close examination of things reveals that it does not really violate our sense of the world. Predestination happens “behind the scenes,” where we cannot see it happening. All we can know about is that it takes place, but it happens in a way that does not violate our primitive sense of controlling our choices.

To put it another way, the doctrine of predestination is actually a comfort for the believer in Jesus Christ. Instead of weirding him out, the doctrine of predestination tells the Christian that his God is strong enough to save even those who at first hate him.

80 thoughts on “Predestination Again

    • Molinism has to do with the ultimate mechanism of predestination. I’m arguing for the fact of predestination, and trying to clarify its biblical definition.

      [By the way, I don’t agree with Molinism. But that’s not germane to the present post.]

      • I would say that it’s only confusing if you try to visualize the mechanism of God’s predestination. Scripture presents it as a comfort to the Christian, telling him that his God actively sought him out and will therefore never let him be lost.

    • Arminianism is the belief that God does not decide in advance who will be saved. It says that there is no predestination, at least as the man in the street would define it, and that God wants all to be saved. See, e.g., I Timothy 2:4.

      Problem is, what God wants is much more vague than what God does. God wants nobody to murder, but murder happens. And not everyone is saved. God is all-powerful, but in at least these two cases he doesn’t get what he wants. But according to Ephesians chapter 1, God chose us (Christians) before the creation of the world, to be “holy and blameless in his sight.” Only Christians are “holy and blameless in his sight,” so God chose us to be saved. This is not a matter of God wanting something but not getting it. It’s a matter of what God has actually done.

  1. Here’s what sounds wrong to me: There’s no freedom of the will in it.

    I have no problem with the idea that God could have planned for and knew of your specific and individual salvation since the beginning of time. But unless I’m mistaking you, you’re saying that you had *nothing* to do with it: You didn’t want Christ, and God changed you to want Christ, and now you want Christ, and you can be saved.

    Suggesting that a person can be saved without God is Pelagianism. This seems to be the flip side of that heresy. Or am I missing something?

    It seems, rather, that God wants us to turn to Him. Just as we, say, participate in the creation by choosing to have families, we participate in our own salvation by choosing to be saved. We couldn’t actually do it without His grace, of course, but then, we couldn’t do anything without His grace. We choose to turn to Him, and then His plan of salvation for us plays out.

    Assuming that we continue to choose Him, of course. We can fall again if we don’t continue to place ourselves in His hands. We can’t rise on our own, but we can fall or stay fallen on our own, and without God we could only stay fallen.

    • You say there’s no freedom of the will in the process I described. I think there is. Man chooses what he wants. If you want to come to Christ in repentance and faith, you do. That’s freedom.

      But you don’t want it until God changes what you want.

      When I come to Christ, it’s not true that I had nothing to do with it. I chose to come.

      You said

      We couldn’t actually do it without His grace, of course, but then, we couldn’t do anything without His grace. We choose to turn to Him, and then His plan of salvation for us plays out.

      I agree. I would just add that you cannot choose to come to Christ unless God does something to you.

      Some people think that if God does anything, even the most subtle, to change you, then your freedom is nullified and you become no better than a puppet. I disagree. These people are out-thinking themselves. If you are able to choose what you want then you are free in the only sense that should matter to you.

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    • Ephesians 1:11 (ESV):

      In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will

      It would seem that God predestines all things. But since we don’t know what is predestined, and since our experience of things is that we are not manipulated, I don’t let myself freak out over it. It operates at so high a level that its only impact on me is to give me assurance of being safe in the arms of an all-powerful God who has forgiven my sins.

      • Alan, I might be “predestined” to inherit a legacy, but I don’t see that it follows that what I do with that legacy is predestined. I might squander it or invest it wisely, as in the Parable. In either case I would be responsible for the consequences, the author of them and the debtor of them. The doctrine of predestination strikes me as a reduction to the level of mechanism of Moral Causality (hubris-nemesis), a view of existence common to Pagans, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and possibly Buddhists, and other pre-modern and non-liberal people, which makes no sense without the accompaniment of Free Will. The existence of Free will means that I can give God the finger – and be penalized for it. Otherwise the penalty is just another phase in the script, already written, one chapter ahead of giving God the finger, which is likewise another phase in the script, already written. I didn’t give God the finger; God gave God the finger, as the plaintiff might well plead. In this scenario, as it appears to me, we are devilishly close to the Koranic thesis that there are no secondary causes. (“The moving finger having writ” and all that; or “society did it.”) I am willing to be instructed, God knows, but a God who says, “this is how it will be – and no divergence,” can only, by my lights, have abrogated morality; he is simply a puppet-master who says, uselessly, and to Himself apparently, “I told you so.” The puppet “doesn’t know.” So what boots the “I told you so”?

        If God were responsible for everything, having authored the script, then I can’t help but think that he would deserve the finger, pardoning the expression, and supposing that a mere cog in a mechanism could give anyone the finger. If predestination were the case, I would need to drop my objection to Gnosticism; I would need to start thinking of God as Blake’s Nobodaddy, and royally hate Him for robbing me of the choice whether to observe morality or flout it.

        If Liberals were only acting out the screenplay, why would we bother to criticize them? Why would we bother ourselves to organize The Orthosphere?

        God’s “purpose,” a general term, is not the same as God’s gear-box or his computer-algorithm. The amelioration that “we are not manipulated” is simply not plausible in the larger argument. To the extent that it is all predetermined, we are manipulated, just as in Marxism, by the equivalent of material conditions.

        I am being hard on you because I regard you as a correspondent friend – a fellow Californian and a Traditionalist survivor in the academy. I would like to see things your way because I like you, but as it stands I cannot see things your way. You will understand that this is an enduring issue between the chapters of Christianity. I regard you as fully a Christian, and my spiritual brother, just as much as I regard his contingent holiness Fruit-Loops the First as not the Pope, but rather the institutional mountebank of my particular Christian confession. And I heartily regard Fruit-Loops the First as such – as a man richly deserving of the moving finger, which having writ, moves on… And something about a bird…

        Sincerely,

        Tom

      • Tom:

        I take no offense at your stern words. If you chastise me, it is as a brother.

        I don’t think this dispute can be resolved by rational discourse. Predestination just gives some people the heebie jeebies, as I said in another comment. “Heebie jeebies” is not a bad way to describe it: it just seems to fill some people with an uncanny dread.

        But I don’t respond that way, because I see it as an aspect of a deeper reality that we can never plumb, except to know that it is there, and that God is sovereign even over the deep things of the cosmos.

        We don’t know anything about what is predestined to happen. So for all practical purposes, our choices determine the future.
        Biblical predestination acknowledges that man has free will in the sense that matters practically: he can choose, and then he suffers (or enjoys) the consequences. You do have free will, Tom. But man does not have “cosmic” free will, the type of “free will” in which not even God knows what he’ll do. God knows. And he knows because he predetermines.

        And if God does not (or cannot) predestine, his power is severely limited. How, for example, could God foretell in great detail the coming of the Messiah without having the power to predefine the course of history? Maybe he was just very lucky? Was his luck the “residue of design?”

      • Correct me if I’m off base, Prof. Bertonneau, but how can God have “robbed” you of something not properly yours to begin with?

        I can’t imagine a scenario in which God “deserves” the finger, even when (or especially when) we see him as having committed some injustice against us.

        See below.

      • Alan, et al. In answering this question “does God will all things?” doesn’t one have to bring up the distinction between God’s positive and God’s permissive will? God wills all things, some actively, some passively. I’ve heard Reformed Christians talk about this distinction and even add a few more categories.

      • God’s permissive will is what he allows to happen, even though it may violate one of his commandments. Murder, for example, occurs, although God forbids it.

        God’s positive will is what God commands us to do (or not do.)

        God’s sovereign will is what God has determined as the course of history. We cannot know it (until it happens) because God has not given us a glimpse of his divine blueprint.

      • But man free will, the type of “free will” in which not even God knows what he’ll do. God knows. And he knows because he predetermines.

        Or He knows because He has witnessed it when it was done.

        And if God does not (or cannot) predestine, his power is severely limited. How, for example, could God foretell in great detail the coming of the Messiah without having the power to predefine the course of history?

        Is it? To me exactly the opposite seems to be true — God who is not able to deal with man’s free will is lesser God. And again God who is not able to see our future decisions is not the God who said ‘before Abraham was I am’. After all our decisions are unknown only to the moment we make them. Does the fact He knows them mean we are predestined? I wouldn’t call it that way.

        But I am no theologian. I assume I am not the first to come up with this argument so I am curious about your answer.

      • It sounds as if you are describing a God who guides history by responding to our choices. He does not make us do what we do, but he reacts perfectly to them in such a way that his plans unfold exactly as he wishes.

        I suppose such could be the case. But we have to honor the words that the Bible uses. For example, God as the ultimate author of Scripture chose to describe himself as our Heavenly Father, not our Heavenly Mother or (forgive the irreverence, it’s in order to make a point) our Heavenly Sheepdog. Although God is not a human being, and therefore not a father or a male as we understand these concepts, we have to honor the words that scripture uses. God is like a father.

        And it’s like that when the Bible uses words like “predestine” or “compel.” For example, John 6:44 reads “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” And that word “draw” is the translation of the original Greek “elkuo,” which means to compel, not just to entice. The Bible speaks of God compelling and predestining. We have to honor the words in which God chose to express himself.

      • Alan,
        Jim Kalb mentioned the positive-permissive will distinction to me about 10 years ago in a blog comment. I never looked up formal definitions. I assumed it meant “what God actively does” vs. “what God allows to happen.” So maybe “active” and “passive” are better terms for what I’m thinking of. Of course he mentioned it in a Catholic context. I don’t know how the Catholic Church defines these concepts.

        I have seen Reformed writers (probably Sproul) mention other categories of God’s will but I can’t remember if “sovereign will” is one of them- it probably was.

  3. …just as much as I regard his contingent holiness Fruit-Loops the First as not the Pope…

    Sedevacantist? If so, I am very disappointed and sad to hear of it Dr. Bertonneau. Pope Francis is a divider in places where he should be a uniter, but it is not necessary to take his cues and thus divide.

    • The moving fruit having looped… and a bird… etcetera… Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As Voegelin’s Guide puts it: “Don’t Panic.” The source of order is the response to disorder.

      • Thanks for the response, but your finely-calculated grammar has left me in a (perhaps well-deserved) fog.

  4. Terry Morris writes: Correct me if I’m off base, Prof. Bertonneau, but how can God have “robbed” you of something not properly yours to begin with?

    Terry: My grammar is finely calculated. (Count my “if‘s.”) God can’t have robbed me of anything; it’s impossible, which is why I can’t accept predetermination.

  5. Mr. Roebuck, I find this doctrine and the Calvinist tradition in which it plays such a significant part so repellent, blasphemous, and objectionable that I have doubts whether I should even engage this post (could there be any profit to the endeavour?). Nonetheless, I have a question about a step in your argumentation. You state that a man (a Christ-hater) could never begin to notice the good points about the gospel without God’s causing him to notice it so. I agree, but then I would say (without committing to the mechanical specifics, as I do not know them) that God causes all things (qua things . . . that is, all being and true actions of beings). Whenever we do anything good, or turn toward the good, that is because of God, just as our existence is. So, we’re in complete agreement that God is the source of all reality. My objection to Calvinism is that, as I understand it, it holds that God is the one who refuses to turn men toward him, having eternally chosen that they should rather reject him and perish. That is abominable and makes God into a demon and worthy of contempt, as Mr. Bertonneau rightly notes above. Of course, it is absurd that we creatures would be better than our perfect creator, and so we cannot lay the cause of evil at God’s feet (to use a questionable image). So, we’re left with a mystery of why we human beings err — the inexplicable, unintelligible “reason” behind our lack of truth and good will. That is the fundamental story, but the phenomenal level is what I would like to address.

    On the everyday level, why couldn’t our previous Christ-hater begin to see the good points of the gospel? As Christians, we come to a fuller understanding of the faith all the time. There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that used to appear objectionable to me until I considered them in a new way, sometimes by reading or hearing a different perspective that I never considered and sometimes from having one of those eureka moments that revealed something novel to me. [Either way, as above, I attribute all journeys toward truth as divinely inspired — revelation from above and below, so to speak. I differ from Calvinism with this in that God is constantly sending such revelations to all men (it’s casually called “life”), often through willing servants — i.e. Christians.] And, as you note, we gain additional information all the time — and we alter our judgments accordingly. Why couldn’t the Christ-hater experience a mind-shifting piece of information — such as a Christian who manifests Christ in his life? That seems to be the most useful evidence in the history of the faith for moving hearts and minds.

    You contrast love and desire with knowledge, but I am not convinced of your argument. Take, for example, the common occurrence of someone hostile to Christianity who was raised in a perverse “Christian” home. Our “apostate” never actually knew the gospel; he simply experienced a mind-spinning set of contradictions tainted with hatred and vice. He may mock Jesus the Christ, and I do not disagree that such amounts to blasphemy of a sort, but he really isn’t mocking the Second Person of the Trinity but rather a grotesque caricature of him that exists in his mind. [Let’s bracket the tricky tangential questions about intensionality, and I’ll just say that, in some way, the objects of our consciousness are our mental constructions of them and, in some other way, they are the objects themselves, and one goal of knowledge is to shrink the distance between the two.] For he has never seen Christ, and, having never seen or heard about him, he has never truly rejected him. Then, this fellow encounters Christians (through providence, to be sure, in addition to Christians’ readily accepting to be wielded by their cosmic Field Marshall) who jar his expectations, differing as they do from the repulsive dysfunctional hypocrisy of his past experience. When things do not appear as we expect them, we tend to investigate more — and to modify our opinions as more information becomes available. And so, our lost sheep becomes found. This is not an exceptional story — it happens everyday, thank God.

    It also seems that we do change what we love or desire, and this often (maybe always) happens with a change in our knowledge. I do not know whether Calvinism holds that men desire the Good by nature (I doubt it), but I subscribe to that doctrine. Men desire the Good (God) by nature, but they also desire all sorts of lower goods and rank them in importance differently. When men discover that something is truly more valuable than another, they alter their estimations. In such a way, they never change what they desire ultimately, but they frequently modify the ranking of goods, and this happens due to knowledge (or conversely to ignorance — and/or possibly unintelligible sin). We desire what we know and find good — whether people or art or animals or matters of sustenance. Life is a constant barrage of experiences wherein we discover new things — and taste and see whether they are good.

    When a man finally witnesses the ultimate Good, he knows that his heart must rest in it (Him). As Christians, we have seen the light; we have found the true faith. The great commission is for us to share that amazing bit of good news to everyone. And in this, we have a purpose in God’s great strategic design — not that of puppets but that of soldiers.

    • Joseph: You and I have convergent responses to Alan’s doctrine, but may I say, please, that I find that doctrine not blasphemous, but merely impossible; nor do I hold it against Alan that he espouses his belief, which has an impressive literary foundation including, perhaps, St. Augustine. There is so much concerning which Alan and I agree that I must believe in a likely reconciliation of our difference. To the extent that I have been been hard in my demand on Alan, it is because I live in hope of that reconciliation.

      • I admit that there are many good folks who, sadly, are Calvinists (which makes me hate the error ever the more), but I find certain doctrines of their sect wicked. Blaming God for evil, which is what their doctrine ultimately does, is blasphemy — the worst kind of blasphemy — for it makes God into not-God. Of course, such is impossible, but it is also blasphemy — it “speaks evil.” And I do not expect a reconciliation of that difference. The move is so fundamental — it’s really a radical re-understanding of what (not to mention who) God is. It strikes me as Koranic, as you noted — God the Sovereign Will, divorced from Goodness. As for Augustine, I have a love-hate relationship with him. I love him for who he is (who cannot but love him as one gets to know him through his writings?), but I hate a good deal of his legacy. Yet, we cannot blame the bishop for the history of the West following his death.

      • Joseph A.:

        Blaming God for evil, which is what their doctrine ultimately does, is blasphemy

        Blaming God for evil is blasphemous. Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) doctrine does no such thing. No Reformed theologian of any standing, i.e., one recognized by others in the Reformed church, regardless of denomination—has ever blamed God for evil. Evil is entirely our own fault, along with that of the devil. As the Westminster Divines put it in the Shorter Catechism,

        14
        Q: What is sin?
        A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

        15
        Q: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
        A: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.

        To think that Reformed theology makes God is responsible for evil is to misapprehend Reformed theology on a fundamental level. I do not believe you are intentionally misconstruing Calvin and others, but perhaps there is something among your axioms that leads you to this misinterpretation, which, if it were true, would make Reformed theology as wicked as you claim.

        I understand your difficulty with this; I, too, have struggled with it. The idea that I was predestined to receive grace, yet that I had to choose to believe, seems, on the face of it, contradictory. I take this as one of those areas where the glory of God exceeds the comprehension of man. As has been said before, what kind of a God would be one that we could fully comprehend? So as we struggle with understanding what it means that God is one yet exists in three persons, that Jesus is both man and both God, and other divine mysteries, we also struggle with predestination and choice.

    • Joseph,

      You said

      I would say (without committing to the mechanical specifics, as I do not know them) that God causes all things (qua things . . . that is, all being and true actions of beings). Whenever we do anything good, or turn toward the good, that is because of God, just as our existence is.

      But then you said

      My objection to Calvinism is that, as I understand it, it holds that God is the one who refuses to turn men toward him, having eternally chosen that they should rather reject him and perish.

      How can you say, on the one hand, that God causes all things (which would presumably include that some remain hard-hearted and are lost), but on the other hand, that a God who would refuse to turn sinful men toward him is “abominable and a demon and worthy of contempt?” This seems inconsistent.

      You asked

      Why couldn’t the Christ-hater experience a mind-shifting piece of information — such as a Christian who manifests Christ in his life?

      He does. But the mind-shifting presupposes a willingness to shift, and the origin of this willingness is mysterious, unless we believe Scripture.

      About your proposed counterexample of a man raised in a perverse, pseudo-Christian home who hates not the real Christ, but a counterfeit: Scripture (it seems clear to us Protestants) teaches that all men are born dead in trespasses and sins, requiring a change of heart to come to Christ. And the man in your example surely hates all Christs, including the real one, until he is granted the ability to change.

      About your contention that we can change what we love by gaining knowledge: I agree with you in general, but when it comes to loving Christ, I am constrained by Scripture. Further knowledge, without a supernatural change of heart, avails nothing.

      Also, what is your understanding of Ephesians 1, especially verses 3 through 6, and 11? They seem to teach straightforwardly predestination.

      • Mr. Roebuck, please excuse my tardiness in answering your questions. I do not know what to make of the instances of προορίζω in the New Testament. I am not a biblical scholar or a theologian, but I am confident that it cannot mean what Calvinists take it to mean. As others have noted, scripture has much to say about the nature of God, directly and through examples and images — especially that God is love and that he is good — that he “is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Now, you will say, undoubtedly, that your understanding of predestination coexists with such a nature of God, but I think that is forcing a square peg through a round hole — it does violence to our understanding of love and goodness. You may speak about human depravity and blindness, but I cannot accept any system that undermines the very foundations of human judgment. God is not a deceiver. You may pint to the fall and human depravity, but such a path makes the ministry of the law, the prophets, and the apostles a big charade. God only delivers a message to beings that can understand it — and God is not a deceiver.

        The word προορίζω only occurs a few times in the Bible — six according to a search that I just did (if the instrument worked correctly). It is a mistake to overturn the general and consistent message of the Gospel to make it fit into a theology defined by a few passages that became central to theological thinking only with Augustine in his anti-Pelagian activity. The doctrine was a fringe concern in the Christian world until the Reformation, and I think that is evidence that there is something suspicious about the controversy — and about Augustine’s resolution of it. Myself, I think that anyone acquainted with realist metaphysics (the understanding of the vast majority of Christians before the modern period) would not take Pelagianism seriously. For it is clear that human beings do not have being of their own power. They cannot do anything of their own power. Everything about us is derivative from the father of lights, the treasury of good things, him by whom the world was made. I attribute the Greeks’ lack of interest in the Pelagian dispute to this very fact — that the controversy seemed stupid to them. Augustine was philosophically trained enough to know better, and his line of attack sowed a poisonous seed that germinated a millennium later.

        You ask, “How can you say, on the one hand, that God causes all things (which would presumably include that some remain hard-hearted and are lost), but on the other hand, that a God who would refuse to turn sinful men toward him is “abominable and a demon and worthy of contempt?” This seems inconsistent.” It is not inconsistent because causation of things does not include the inexplicable corruption of things — this state (or un-state) of evil that we casually affirm to be a thing by our manner of speech in order to convey what we mean really is nothing (of the sort or anything else). God doesn’t cause evil because evil is nothing. I suspect that a Platonist approach to metaphysics is required to make traditional Christian doctrine intelligible, and that is why the confusion of the Reformation did not occur until the spread of an alien understanding of the world (nominalism) had replaced the patristic one.

        You mention the first chapter of Ephesians. Like I said, I don’t know what προορίζω really means. It doesn’t appear to be a common word (according to Perseus, at least), and even in the New Testament, it appears only a handful of times in Paul’s letters and in Luke’s Acts. It literally means to pre-establish or mark beforehand limits or boundaries (horizons is a related term). There are many ways that one could interpret the passages with it — the standard Calvinist way, or the Arminians’ Calvinist rejoinder method, wherein God foresees men’s action and then sets up the world accordingly. I found it interesting to see that Augustine argued against that very interpretation in his On the Predestination of the Saints. His point is that God’s grace would not be grace if it were doled out on account of human worth. For him, it seems, any question of justice or merit confuses the fundamental truth that God’s grace is totally a gift. That is a good argument, but I don’t think that we have to resort to the Calvinist or this anti-Calvinist interpretation. Perhaps, God’s predestination — God’s setting of markers done outside of time from all eternity — is simply God’s assignment of roles and natures. This might be general — our general human purpose — as well as individual — in how we fit into the providential unrolling of history. I am very uncomfortable in dealing with the later; I have no idea how providence works, and yet it seems that God does work intimately through the messiness of history. God certainly knows all possible worlds — all the roads not taken and the trillions upon trillions of contingent possibilities for our cosmos. Maybe, he threads the loom to maximize goodness based on what free creatures do (per Leibniz). Maybe, he assigns definite roles regardless of our actions, and it is up to us to play (with grace given to all) the part assigned to us, but we, for no reason (that disgusting quality of evil), fall short of the ideal performance. A simple reading of several biblical narratives makes it seem that God has assigned some pretty dreadful parts to certain individuals (pharaoh, Judas), which lends credibility to Calvin’s evil puppet-master interpretation of scripture. On the other hand, maybe God’s providence is simply the skill of the master lemonade-maker, who creates sweetness from that which is bitter — men’s folly isn’t God’s will, but it is co-opted by God for the greater good. Maybe, some men get bad parts (there has to be an Iago in Othello), and God’s ultimate judgment will take that into consideration, just as the critic grades a performance with an eye to the material and what is possible given the constraints of the role. Maybe predestination is simply a way of speaking of God’s grand salvific formula — the elect are the chosen people . . . chosen as instruments to enact the Gospel Plan — that wonderful military operation wherein the Lord stages a counter-offensive to regain lost territory. Abraham, the Hebrews, the apostles, the preachers and converted of the Great Commission, the Christians of our day who strive to live in hope and in the light of the Resurrection . . . maybe this is the meaning of predestination — that the pilgrimage routes to the New Jerusalem, the path of the righteous, or the ingenious recipe of the master lemonade-maker is what is marked out from the foundation of the world. There is much ambiguity in the scriptures. Many are called but few are chosen — perhaps the chosen are simply the ones who answer the call. I don’t know. I only know that God is good, and that we must reject Calvin’s laying evil at God’s feet.

  6. I quote the Orthodox Father Reardon
    “Speculative conjectures—nay, fantasies—about eternal predestination, for which there is scant warrant in Holy Scripture, represent one of the deepest tragedies in the history of Christian theology. There is not the faintest hint in Holy Scripture that God, by an eternal decree logically prior to Creation itself, determined some men for eternal life and others for eternal damnation. On the contrary, in the New Testament the noun “predestination” never appears. As for the verbal cognate (proorizo), it is found only in connection with the life of divine grace; Christians are said to be prooristhentes (“first marked off”) by God for the sake of Christ (Ephesians 1:11 ; cf. 1:5 ; Romans 8:29-30 ). This Pauline expression refers simply to the priority of God’s grace, as Christians experience that grace. Apart from the life we have in Christ, the New Testament knows nothing of predestination.”

    • Father Reardon:

      There is not the faintest hint in Holy Scripture that God, by an eternal decree logically prior to Creation itself, determined some men for eternal life and others for eternal damnation.

      Ephesians 1:3-5:

      Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

      Romans 8:29:

      For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

      Acts 13:48:

      And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

      Jude 4:

      For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation,…

      Acts 4:27,28:

      …for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

      I could go on and on.

  7. “Instead of weirding him out, the doctrine of predestination tells the Christian that his God is strong enough to save even those who at first hate him.”

    Basically, predestination solves one apologetic difficulty while introducing another. It is reassuring that God can save even those who hate Him, and repellent that He does not seem to exercise this option in all cases.

    This introduces a real difficulty into statements such as ‘God loves all people’ or ‘God desires the salvation of every person’. Can I likewise, in my love, choose to inflict good to some people and evil to others, since that is what God does? If not, why am I required to love with a different love than that with which God loves? If my love is a worse love, why do I bother with it? If my love is a better love than that of God, what does that make God?

    The common apologetic escape from this is to argue that God does not override free will. Thus (say) God desires the salvation of every person but He also desires to respect human free will and not alter it. The latter desire is primary; thus He does not save a person who wills against Him. The post seems to argue that predestination is necessarily a case of God altering someone’s free will (by changing what a person desires — something the person is himself incapable of willing), which opens up the question of what *other* consideration or desire on the part of God could override God’s explicitly stated desire for the salvation of every person.

    Of course, the above post is also basically consistent with a universal-salvation Calvinism along the lines of George Macdonald, but I somehow doubt that is what Alan Roebuck subscribes to.

    • It is reassuring that God can save even those who hate Him, and repellent that He does not seem to exercise this option in all cases.

      It reassures the Christian and repels the unbeliever.

      …why am I required to love with a different love than that with which God loves?

      Because you’re not God.

      The common apologetic escape from this is to argue that God does not override free will.

      It depends on what you mean by “free will.” If it means that man is so free that not even God knows or can control what he does, then man does not have free will. If man can choose what he wants, then man has free will.

      • > Because you’re not God.

        Indeed, I am not God, and that would end the argument if it were not said that God is Love. So how, then, can he command a person to love with some other kind of love, besides the Love that is God? For if I love with some other love than God’s love, I worship some other god….

        Then there is my other question. If God is powerful to save, why does He predestine only some people and not others? (This is what is commonly explained by saying that God also desires not to override human free will, in order not to make a mockery of the free choice of the saved.) Since you deny that line of thought, and cannot appeal to any sovereignty of the human will in explaining why some people are damned, what other consideration — in your view — stands in the way of God fulfilling His (explicitly stated! — 1 Timothy 2:4) desire to bring about the salvation of all people, each and every person without exception?

      • So how, then, can he command a person to love with some other kind of love, besides the Love that is God?

        Since humans are not God, they cannot love as God does.

        …what other consideration — in your view — stands in the way of God fulfilling His (explicitly stated! — 1 Timothy 2:4) desire to bring about the salvation of all people, each and every person without exception?

        God also desires that nobody steal or murder, and yet these do occur. God obviously has reasons, which he’s not telling us, for permitting things that he does not want.

        Other than what I just said, man cannot answer the questions you pose. As I said in response to another comment, we know very little about predestination, except that it happens, and that God predestines some to salvation. I suspect that predestination operates at a level far above our ability to understand it even if we were to be told the details.

        So the thing is not to let it tie you in philosophical knots, or frighten you (a loose translation of “give you the heebie-jeebies.”) If you trust God, then you must trust that his predestination is good even if it doesn’t make complete sense to you.

  8. I agree there are problems with free will in Predestination Doctrine. Why would God not do this for all people? To change what we want just seems too manipulative and pointless. If this didn’t contradict free will, then why wouldn’t God change what free people ‘want’ to do in terms of sin? Couldn’t he have made Jeffrey Dahmer not want to eat people, and still preserved his free will?

    I don’t deny that God does move in people to allow them to come to Him, but this isn’t changing what we want. It instead opens us up to the possibility of God which we may have shut the door to. Originally, I was both emotionally and logically closed off from God. Apologetics and good argumentation opened me to logical possibility, and the Holy Spirit opened me emotionally to it as well. I felt this change.

    I think there is something we can say, and that is that those who would require an inner spiritual nudge from God in order to become Christian, get that nudge (Praise God!). Some people, no matter how much prompting they could be given, are permanently stubborn of their own free will, and so God gives them none. This works for the moral problem as well. There was no change that God could have brought about in Dahmer that would have stopped him, not without violating his free will, the man was too set in his ways.

    • To put it another way, to say God cannot know in advance those who will be saved at anyone one moment because man possesses God-ordained free will AND SHOULD be able to alter his fate at any one moment IS TO SAY all men are essentially moving in one direction thus giving no evidence for God-ordained free will. This is self-evidently false. AT A MINIMUM, man moves in opposite directions. God MUST KNOW THIS in advance as He can neither replicate His Perfection (MAKE all His creation strive towards Supremacy) nor perpetuate an Evil (DAMN all His creation). Man’s God-ordained free will and predestination go hand and hand.

      • No, God of course knows everything in advance, he knows which choices men will freely make, this is how he acts accordingly. I don’t dispute that. What I’m questioning is that God will forcibly alter someone’s desires.

      • Mr. Citadel…

        Are you asking why God won’t change the direction of those rejecting salvation or if He does attempt to change their direction and is not “successful” does this then impugn His Perfection? I think not. Take yourself to the workout gym. It’s squat day and also your lucky day. There is this man at the rack who executes the perfect squat. Forget about the weight he holds and think of the form he maintains. It’s squat day for you too. Everyone in the gym presupposes the freedom to get your squat on in whichever manner you desire. Did anybody tell you that the man at the squat rack does the perfect squat holding all that weight perpetually? Like all day, everyday? If you see him and do not imitate him, you affect his perfection in no way. If you see him and attempt to imitate him, again, you effect his perfection in no way, but you project his perfection in some manner. Now, if you imitate him perfectly… Well, you cannot. Perfection is not replicable. Perfection is not redundant. What you can do is project his perfection as far and wide and as deep as personally possible. That’s why you attempt to imitate his perfection. But never forget, in doing the perfect squat all day, everyday, he tries to change your direction with a “force” right in front of your face and clearly in your mind. He is always successful with many simply destined to choose failure in a place of God-ordained free will.

    • We know very little about predestination, except that it happens, and that God predestines some to salvation. I suspect that predestination operates at a level far above our ability to understand it even if we were to be told the details.

      So the thing is not to let it tie you in philosophical knots, or frighten you (a loose translation of “give you the heebie-jeebies.”) If you trust God, then you must trust that his predestination is good even if it doesn’t make complete sense to you.

      I don’t deny that God does move in people to allow them to come to Him, but this isn’t changing what we want. It instead opens us up to the possibility of God which we may have shut the door to.

      We don’t know enough to be able to say this with confidence. If the Bible speaks of predestining and compelling, we have to take it at face value.

      …those who would require an inner spiritual nudge from God in order to become Christian, get that nudge (Praise God!). Some people, no matter how much prompting they could be given, are permanently stubborn of their own free will, and so God gives them none.

      I’d go along with that.

  9. If God the Sovereign is defined as Perfect God versus the god who wills anything then predestination seems absolutely necessary for a proper order of things. There can be no uniform movement of men mistaken as genuine God-ordained free will. In other words, neither all men strive towards Supremacy nor do all men descend AND IF “they” were to do one or the other then no evidence for God ordained free will could be established. One would either get a replication of Perfection (impossible) or an absolute atheism (also impossible). For argument’s sake, let’s just say that the evidence for God-ordained free will is half of Christians truly striving towards Supremacy and the other half deluding itself about his true desire to willingly ascend. It seems this general “fact” of reality necessitates a predestination that violates no man’s God-ordained free will nor does it call into question God’s Perfection.

  10. I am grateful for the lucidity and depth of this debate, not to mention the gentlemanliness of all concerned. I wish to offer two opinions.
    Firstly, I would think it important to distinguish God’s Knowledge from His Will. That He might know every single event in the lifespan of creation, from the sub-atomic to the galaxial, does not, in my opinion, rule out independent free-will on the part of any creature possessing it. He knows what I will do, but, while He may be trying to influence my decision, that decision is mine.
    Secondly, I always have wondered, if Predestinationism is true, why bother with the whole shooting-match? Why didn’t God just populate Heaven directly instead of going through this pointless charade, full of unnecessary suffering, including His own?

    • Can not certain of God’s acts appear to be pointless from the perspective of an imperfect, contingent being, when in fact they’re not from the perspective of Divine being?

      • Of course, but since this whole debate is based on what the contributors know or think they know, presumably based on Revelation and their God-given and limitedly God-like reason, your point can be used to invalidate all these speculations. Maybe, like the Musselmen, God is simply a Mystery we must obey?

        I still can see no good reason for the Incarnation if our fate is predestined. Maybe it’s because of my creaturely limitations, and I would certainly have no argument with that, but I can only see it as an exercise in futility. In fact, God would have created suffering without sufficient justification, while I can accept this suffering as a price for freedom.

    • …if Predestinationism is true, why bother with the whole shooting-match? Why didn’t God just populate Heaven directly instead of going through this pointless charade, full of unnecessary suffering, including His own?

      On the one hand, it’s a natural question. But on the other hand, it’s needless speculation about a counterfactual world. If we trust God, we trust that he has good reasons for doing things as he does, even if we cannot know them.

    • Mickvet, thanks for that. The point about the difference between knowledge and act, if I may put it that way, seems to me critical to this topic, and I think that some believe that His knowing is equivalent to His determining. When I first thought about omniscience during my Catholic instruction (as an adult) I could not see that omniscience was compatible with free will. That conundrum was subsequently resolved when I heard about Boethius’ discussion of the topic.

      You might say that time has the structure that it does, in order that freedom of will be actual.

      None of the above resolves the problem, if the biblical references to predestination are taken to mean God’s action, rather than His knowledge.

      • Exactly.

        In parsing this difficult conundrum, I have found it helpful to remember several things:

        1. Boethius. From our temporal perspective it would seem that God knows what we do before we do it. But God is not limited to our temporal perspective. He is eternal. In eternity, there is no before, nor is there any after. Rather, all events just are, and have the causal relations that they have. Thus it is a mistake to think that the “pre” in “predestination” means something like “at some time before the beginning of time” – obviously an incoherent notion. It means rather, “logically prior.” God’s knowledge of what happens is the forecondition of what happens, not temporally, but logically; as eternity is the forecondition of time, not temporally, but logically, and as likewise necessity is the forecondition of contingency, and the Unmoved Mover the forecondition of all motion, Perfection the forecondition of all fection, etc.

        2. That God knows something does not therefore simply mean that he alone does it. Nor does it mean that it is somehow done, baked, before it is done and baked.

        3. God is the first cause and prime cause of every event. But that does not mean that he is the only causal factor of events. If God were the only causal factor of events, then it would not have been Lucifer, Adam and Eve who Fell; the Fall would not have happened in virtue of their acts, for they would not themselves have performed those acts: God would have. Nor would our sins happen in virtue of our acts, which would not then even exist qua ours (as nor then would we). If God were the sole causal factor of all things, it would make no sense to talk of sin or depravity or a Fall, because in that case *absolutely everything that has happened* would have happened in perfect accord with God’s will, and as entirely the result thereof. But God hates sin, so he can’t have been the one who did it, as that would entail his self-hatred: an impossibility.

        4. God does not rule efficiently, but finally. He’s not pushing creatures around. He’s luring them. As their source, he calls them into being; as their end, he calls them to the proper completion of that being. But they do not all listen. They have real options, thanks to his creation of them, his calling them into being under a given form. And some of those options are suboptimal; do not, i.e., lead to the proper completion of their divinely ordained proper ideal ends. Why do creatures err and stray in this fashion? Because they can’t know that they have erred until they have erred; they cannot therefore know the full meaning of their errors, as God does, except ex post. Even then, the full meaning of contingent events can be understood by creatures only in virtue of their eventual participation in the Beatific Vision of God, by whom alone is it ever completely known and understood. Creatures can err because they are finite.

        5. A destination is not a determination. God’s knowledge that I am definitely hellbound is not his determination that I shall be hellbound.

      • Jonathan Edwards in Freedom of the Will describes our will (which after several chapters he proves that it is not as free as we’d like it to be) to be like a link in a chain. We are all links in a chain which has been forged and linked and stirred by God, and each link may follow a unique trajectory and angle, and make a clattering noise of its own– but always within the parameters of what God has created and set in motion.

        I do not believe in Free Will. I believe in A Will. We have A Will of some kind. It is not as free as we’d like it to be. Especially when it is standing as a primary argument against God’s sovereignty! The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is far more weighty and holy than the doctrine of Free Will, yet many would stumble and fall over this “Evil Nobodaddy,” clinging dearly to their doctrine of Free Will, middle finger fully extended.

  11. May I offer an uneducated bit of speculation?

    We distinguish, conceptually, between primary and secondary causes and God’s positive and permissive will. In some cases we know with certainty whether it’s one or the other. E.g. the incarnation is God’s positive will. An evil act like child-murder is God’s permissive will. But in our everyday lives we usually don’t really know with any certainty.

    While the Pauline Epistles are, no doubt, rich in theological content, they are/were first and foremost letters to specific churches correcting errors & divisions, telling Christians how to live, chastising them, etc. It seems like so many of these hard to understand election verses are Paul’s way of reassuring Christians that EVERYTHING is God’s will. In our everyday lives as Christians, we don’t and can’t distinguish between different types of God’s will. We’re supposed to have the attitude that it’s all God’s will and He’ll make ultimate good out of everything. I don’t know whether these election and predestination verses are supposed to inform hardline theological dogma. I like that the Catholic faith allows for at least two understandings of predestination without denying predestination (a heresy).

    • Bruce B., whatever your speculation amounts to at the end of the day, “uneducated” seems to me not to fit the bill. It’s thoughtful speculation, and I doubt that comes from lack of education, although I take it we’re all uneducated to one extent or another. But speaking of lack of education, I did not know that Catholicism holds denial of predestination to be heresy. Given what Catholics have said in this discussion, I take it that “predestination” is defined somewhat differently in Catholic dogma than the (stricter) sense in which Alan is using it here?

      • There is no discussion of predestination as such in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word “predestined” appears a handful of times, some of them scripture quotations, and “predestination” appears only twice. The phrase “free will” appears eight times.

        The CCC is not a complete exposition of Catholic teaching, but is an indication of relevance, I suppose.

  12. Alan Roebeck,
    “Predestination just gives some people the heebie jeebies, as I said in another comment. “Heebie jeebies” is not a bad way to describe it: it just seems to fill some people with an uncanny dread.”

    And double predestination gives some people a frisson of masculanity, particularly those suffering from Allah-envy.

    • So you’re saying Alan suffers from “Allah-envy?” I don’t understand; did he say something that you perceived as an intentional provocation deserving that remark?

      • Well, I said nothing about Alan just as Alan said nothing about those that presented arguments against his view of predestination or double predestination (he is not very precise in his language). He only said that “some” get heebie jeebies by any mention of predestination.

        But I stand by my comment-a lot of discussion here at Orthosphere is being driven by a desire to alt-Right the alt-Right. We don’t want a God that wants to save all. He must damm some or even most people. We are not PC-we will cite Nazi philosohers with approval.

      • Well, whether you agree with predestination or not, it’s actually factually correct to say that God “must damn some people.” Since God is all-good and all-just, He cannot tolerate evil or turn a blind eye to sin, and since some people (or most people) consciously choose evil over good and never repent, then God must damn them.

        “we don’t want a God who wants to save all”

        Probably more accurate to say “we don’t want a god who is all mercy and no justice, nor do we want a god who is all justice and no mercy.” And that, of course, being informed by what we’re told of God’s nature and attributes in His Word, which is pretty clear that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have eternal life.

      • The fact that we’re not racial-liberals or racial-leftists has NOTHING to do with the content of the discussion here. Alan and the Reformed commenters didn’t pick Calvinism because it damns the coloreds. You clearly don’t belong here as we make you way too uncomfortable.

      • Bruce B,
        Churchill was no liberal or lover of colored people. But he never compromised with Nazism or felt any need to quote Nazi ‘philosophers’ with approval.

      • Vishmehr24,

        Catholic Bonald quoted something from Carl Schmidt. He didn’t “compromise with Nazism.”

        This is an article by Alan Roebuck, a Reformed Christian. Your comment implied that Alan’s Reformed take on predestination was informed by a desire to exclude coloureds from the kingdom of heaven. I’m calling bullshit on that. I’ve followed Alan’s writings for years. No evidence of that sort of thinking in his writings.

        Since Bonald is an orthodox Catholic, that goes for his predestination too, but that’s another topic.

        Regarding Alan’s comment about “heebie-jeebies” he’s correct. Even Catholic predestination gives many the heebie-jeebies and Calvinist predestination gives people even worse heebie-jeebies. This is because modern people think that election/predestination is unfair and makes God cruel. Nothing to do with alt-right race un-pc-ness.

      • What does the whole Rightist angle have to do with a discussion of Predestination Theology? Orthospherans want to see God as He is, and understand Him as well as possible, and at every turn, this conforms with Reactionary political arguments, but the relationship runs in that direction only. All would say that our religion dictates our politics, not the other way around.

      • Bruce ,
        “Your comment implied that Alan’s Reformed take on predestination was informed by a desire to exclude coloureds from the kingdom of heaven. ”
        In your imagination only.
        Alan pretends that all those disagreeing with him have no rational reason but merely have a case of heebies-jeebies. There is no mention of colored people anywhere, neither by him nor in my comments.
        And no, I am not made uncomfortable. It is supposed to be a free and frank discussion and I do my part.

      • “Alan pretends that all those disagreeing with him have no rational reason but merely have a case of heebies-jeebies.”

        No, he’s identifying a real thing that effects all denominations that hold to some form of predestination. Since he’s Reformed (the hardest core version of predestination) he’s particularly conscious of this . People get heebie-jeebies over predestination because they think it means God is cruel rather than a cosmic Mr. Rogers.

        “There is no mention of colored people anywhere, neither by him nor in my comments.”

        A dishonest response. A little context. You wrote: “But I stand by my comment-a lot of discussion here at Orthosphere is being driven by a desire to alt-Right the alt-Right. We don’t want a God that wants to save all. He must damm some or even most people. We are not PC-we will cite Nazi philosohers with approval.”

        You’re clearly implying that Orthospherians (who? name someone!) beliefs here are driven by an un-pc desire to exclude undesirables from Christianity. We’ve followed your comments – we know where you’re coming from.

      • Vishmehr24…

        If one desires radical autonomy, ie., total detachment from The Perfect God, then has not The Perfect God already righteously willed a present reality to absolutely fulfill said desire? Man’s God-ordained free will is maintained while the Perfection inherent in God is neither impugned nor negated by His will to righteous Fatherhood.

  13. Just to be clear, predestination is indeed a De fide teaching of the Church. As Ludwig Ott defines it:
    “God, by His Eternal Resolve of Will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness.”
    There is also the large book on Predestination by Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, where he distinguishes between God’s antecedent will and consequent will.

    • But the Church does not preach double predestination, which is what Alan is preaching here, under an incorrect name.
      That is, Alan seems to be preaching that God has predetermined certain people to hell. This, I don’t believe, the Catholic Church teaches.

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