Wintery Knight (Probably) Spiked This Pro-Calvinistic-Predestination Comment of Mine at His Blog

Prolific Christian blogger Wintery Knight has a recent post commenting on a discussion-format debate featuring William Lane Craig and Paul Helm on Calvinism vs Molinism as rival ways to understand what the Bible teaches about predestination. Calvinism takes at face value biblical statements on God predestining; Molinism (at least as interpreted by Craig) speculates that God knows how each person would voluntarily behave in all possible situations and then God chose to create the unique world that maximizes the good that results from free choices. God solved, as it were, the Mother of All Optimization Problems.

Paul Helm supported the Calvinistic understanding of predestination

Wintery Knight is evidently an anti-Calvinist; replying to a reader comment he wrote

Yes I think it’s important for people to understand what Calvinism teaches. I’m sure there are nice Calvinists, but it’s gotta lot of trouble with the plain meaning of the Bible.

That phrase “the plain meaning of the Bible” inspired me to attempt to post the below comment. But it never went through. Possibly there was an electronic malfunction. Or else WK did not want to get into a discussion on the plain meaning of the Bible.

William Lane Craig claims to believe in predestination and to support Molinism because he believes it is the best way to affirm the biblical texts on predestination while acquitting God of the charge of causing evil. But most non-Cavinists simply reject predestination. What Wintery Knight’s exact position on predestination is, I don’t know. I just know he’s anti-Calvinist and he has no objection to Craig’s Molinism. For that reason my comment dealt not with Molinism (which is highly technical), but with the “plain meaning of the Bible” regarding predestination.

Here is my comment:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”


Romans 9:18  “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”


Ephesians 1:11 “In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will…”

So which is it? Does God want everyone to be saved, or does he plan it all in advance?

The Bible says both. So is the Bible contradicting itself, or is there a deeper meaning?

The Bible does not contradict itself. There is a deeper meaning. Or rather, more work is needed in order to understand what the Bible teaches on this topic.

Two basic points.

One: “Wants” is ambiguous. “Does” is not ambiguous. The Scriptures above compare what God wants with what He does. Does “God wants everyone to be saved” mean He is waiting and hoping but He will not interfere?  Or does it mean something else? I believe that it means something else.

Two:  The Bible has a lot to say about the mechanism of salvation. God does not just wait for people voluntarily to choose to join his team by repenting and believing in Jesus. The Biblical message is that God planned in eternity past, He sent the Son in the fullness of time to do the work of redeeming us, and in each of our lives God acts to make us spiritually alive, a condition which includes being able to respond correctly to the Gospel message. Before God so acted, none of us wanted to believe in Jesus.  See e.g., Ephesians 2.

Predestination gives many people the spiritual heebie-jeebies, and at first glance it seems “unfair,” but the biblical message is clear: We do not autonomously decide whether or not to come to Christ.

But we are not “robots” either. That is clear when we introspect, and the Bible never treats men as “robots.”  This is a red herring.

The Holy Spirit acts in a mysterious way so that the unbeliever starts to see Jesus as good. This change of mind occurs in a way that he is not conscious of. He is not conscious of exactly how he changes his mind, but eventually he becomes aware that his mind has changed.  This is God making him alive in Christ.

PS: Yes, there are some arrogant Calvinists who appear to identify as Calvinists before identifying as Christians.  This is partly a response to being abused (we Calvinists draw more flack than just about any other brand of Christian) and partly human sinfulness.

But other types of Christians also suffer from this condition.

PPS:  I am a Calvinist in the soteriological sense (what it teaches about salvation) but on other topics I retain my independence.

[End of my comment]


62 thoughts on “Wintery Knight (Probably) Spiked This Pro-Calvinistic-Predestination Comment of Mine at His Blog

  1. Pharaoh hardened his heart first as did the Pharisees. It’s only when they do it stubbornly enough and often enough that in the end God hardens their hearts.

    That way among other ways is how both Free Will and predestination is true.

      • Accordong to your interpretation.

        Look, Alan, is it necessary to refight the Reformation (in their Calvinistic version) here? I understand that you wanted to do it at Wintery Knight’s page and you couldn’t.

        But trying to do it here makes no sense. Here there are people of all theologies. You won’t change anybody’s mind and nobody will change your mind. (now that I think this is a good argument for predestination: count me between the reprobate). We can avoid a useless debate that wastes time, effort and good will.

      • God did predict he will harden Pharoah’s heart. But Pharoah hardened his own heart before God confirmed him in his decision.

  2. Calvinism is new to me. So you may need to answer a stupid question or two. From what I can tell, Calvin teaches that God creates two groups of people, the ones he’ll save and the others he’ll damn. Say I’m predestined for hell, even if I accept Christ and follow him for the rest of my life. If Christ died for each human person, how does his death help me when there’s nothing I can do to avoid hell? If he died for each of us, is there’s something wrong with his sacrifice on that cross when predestination guarantees that some people can’t benefit from that sacrifice, even after Go helps them life saintly Christian lives? If I’m already destined for hell no matter what I do,why give me false hope by saying, “Bill, confess that you sin, accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, and then you’ll go to heaven when you die?” When you evangelize me, does that help you instead of me?

    • According to Scripture, it works like this:

      God knows whom he elected (chose) for salvation. But mankind does not know, because God did not reveal a list of the elect.

      Therefore from man’s perspective, it is all determined by your free choice. If you freely choose to repent and believe, you will be saved.

      You are not a robot. Your choice determines your eternal destiny.

      Some people who appear to come to Christ in faith later change their minds. But all who persist in the faith are saved.

      Anti-Calvinist propaganda portrays a scenario in which some of those who are predestined for damnation sincerely repent and believe in Christ but are sent to Hell anyway because they were not on God’s A-list. And some who live like Hell go to Heaven because they ARE on God’s A-list. But that is not what Calvinists believe, because it is contrary to Scripture as well as being absurd on its face.

      Whatever you were predestined for, you will do voluntarily.

      A sophisticated critic of Calvinism would say that predestination is an ad hoc fantasy; man has free will but some people point to the end result and pretend that it was all predestined. That view is closer to the truth; the only way to know predestination is true if God tells us and we believe it.

      • This reminds me of my friend Dr. Eleonore Stump’s book called “The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers.” If I understand her view on what we’re talking about, she believes that divine simplicity contradicts divine foreknowledge because everything that happens inside time is somehow simultaneous with God’s timeless, unchanging, and unchangeable life, his eternal now if you will. Since I wonder whether to agree with Dr. Sump, I’m only telling you what she seems to believe.

        If you’ll forgive a poor analogy, suppose God is flying a helicopter. In the air, he watches everything happen on earth. But he doesn’t force anyone to do anything.

        How about this analogy. I’m sleeping motionless in a room you want to visit. When you see me through the window through the door window, and walk away to let me sleep. You walked away because you saw me. But I didn’t change to get you to go.

      • It seems that most traditional Christians say God foreknows but Calvinists say God foreknows and forewills. Is this correct?

      • Since Scripture does say that God forewills, yes, Calvinists say that. See, e.g., Ephesians 1:4,5

        …even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,…

  3. My impression is that this particular blogger isn’t terribly open to the comments of his more competent critics. My guess is your comment wasn’t “lost.”

    I have always had a strong aversion to Calvinism. I’m well aware of the biblical arguments for it. My aversion is so strong that it tends to push me away from Christianity. I am more comfortable with Orthodoxy and Catholicism and molinism or, if protestant, Arminianism. Calvinist God doesn’t seem like love to me. Doesn’t seem like someone worthy of worship.

    Not really arguing with you and don’t really want to – just getting this off my chest. Better to be a Molinist believer than an unbeliever.

    My impression is that Calvinists are the worst ones about defining others as being outside of Christianity. You’re “not a Christian” or “barely a Christian” to them because you don’t understand the Gospel (if you’re not Calvinist.)

    Anyway, comment not intended to be adversarial.

    • If God is not strong enough to predestine, He is not strong enough to orchestrate all the work needed to save. God does not save by arbitrarily admitting some to Heaven, he saves by doing the work of sending the Messiah. To do this, God must control history. God is able to predestine if he wants to.

      I do not hate non-Calvinistic Christians, nor do I read them out of the Kingdom. I just believe they are mistaken about certain points of soteriology.

      • God is omnipotent. This does not mean that He does all of which He is capable. That He does not do all of which He is capable is no reflection of His strength to act or not act.

        God created nobody for damnation. It is His intention that all be saved, but because of the Free Will which is absolutely necessary for us to be in His image, He cannot ensure all will be prepared to do what is required for salvation. Being an Eternal Being unbound by time, he knows all this in advance and did so from what we understand as the beginning, but this does not exclude our temporal free will.

      • In the Bible, God tells us the following:

        I) Man has free will, as the term “free will” is ordinarily understood: we choose what we want, and then there are consequences. For example:

        Joshua 24:25: But if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

        2 Corinthians 9:6,7: Now I say this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must do just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

        II) God predestines human acts. For example:

        Proverbs 16:9: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

        John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

        Ephesians 1:3—6: 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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

        Ephesians 1:11: 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,

        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.

        So, mickvet, do you believe that God predestines, as Scripture says? And if so, what does this predestination mean?

      • Mr. Roebuck quotes Ephesians 1:4-5 because it says, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,…”

        Catholics believe that a person’s salvation begins when he baptized. We think that when I got baptized, God put holiness into my soul and added me to the Catholic Church. After I sin mortally, that holiness leaves my soul and returns when a priest absolves in the confessional. When I do good things with that holiness in my soul, I become holier. God protects me from temptation and gives me ways to avoid it, and it can make temptation easier to resist next time.

        In each example, we become like or more like Christ. But it’s hard to see how that guarantees that I’ll always be holy when 1 John 5 distinguishes between mortal sin and non-mortal sin in the RSV. Mortal sin removes holiness from my soul. So,if I die impenitently I’ll go to Hell. My point is that even if God predestines me to be Christlike, But since Mr. Rosebuck agrees that we have free will, and since 1 John 5 says mortal sin differs from non-mortal, maybe I cab be like a child who disowns his parents. God predestines me to be their son. For years, I lie virtuously partly because they help me do that. But then I reject them freely on purpose
        I’ll agree that if God knows something will happen, then it will happen. But that doesn’t mean that he wants us to sin. He lets us do that because he knows he’ll make something good happen through it. Catholics think God ordains some things and tolerates others. He doesn’t ordain our sins. If he did ordain them, would we be to blame for them?

        What about Adam and Eve? You might say that he predestined them for holiness because he knew eternally that we would create them that way. But to punish them for their sin, he banished them from the Garden of Eden to live hard lives outside it. Did they go to Heaven? I don’t know. But some Eastern Catholics call them “St. Adam and St. Eve.” So, if I reach Heave, I’ll be eager to meet them there. Who knows whether I’ll get there? I’m glad I don’t know, since I’d hate to take everlasting life for granted.

      • Regarding the person who appears to be a Christian but then repudiates Christ, Scripture has an explanation in 1 John 2:19:

        “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

        They appeared to be Christians, but their end behavior proves that they were not predestined to be saved.

        God’s predestination is different from what God “wants.” God does not want us to sin, but we do anyway. Does this mean that God is unable or unwilling to enforce what He “wants?” I do not believe God is that weak or that callous. Instead, He has made clear what He wants us to do, and when we disobey we suffer the consequences. But Scripture clearly says, in many passages, that God predestines.

        It is impossible for us to visualize a mechanism that makes free will and predestination both feasible, but Scripture says both are true.

      • Mr. Roebuck,

        Suppose Judas went to Hell as Trent’s Catechism says he did. Do you think Christ, God’s all-knowing divine Son, would have made a non-Christian who preached the gospel when he didn’t believe it? When Judas preached and did other things an Apostle went out to do, his hearers would have thought he was a Christian who believed what he taught.

        I took a course from a theology professor, a priest who lost his faith. He knew what it is the Catholic Church teaches and explained it to his students. He did his job, but he didn’t agree with what he taught.

        Naturally, there’s a difference between teaching a course about, say, Feuerbach’s atheism, rejecting it, and not telling your students whether you believe it. But in that case, your students may already know that you may not tell them whether you’re a Feurbacian. You could say “For Feuerbach,” “Feuerbach believed,” “Feuerbach wrote,” etc. and still not even hint that you agree with him. But Our Lord sent the Apostles because he wanted their hearers to believe what he, Christ. told them to teach. Are you suggesting that Judas only seemed Christian when he preached?

        If I understand what you believe, you probably believe in eternal security. A Catholic can agree that when you get to Heaven, you’ll stay there forever. Though I’m not hinting that you’re committing the no true Scotsman fallacy, many Christians commit it unknowingly. Let me explain.

        Suppose I answer an altar call at Dr. Charles Stanley’s church. After the service, a friend of mine says, “Congratulations, buddy. Now that you’re a Christian there’s no way for you to lose your salvation. You’ll go to Heaven no matter what you do on earth.”

        Two days later, I call my pal because he needs to know that I’ve just stabbed my wife to death because I found her cheating with our next-door neighbor. With my conscience scolding me for my terrible sin, I think, “I accepted Christ, but maybe he didn’t accept me. I need to answer another altar call because my pastor says my crime shows that I’m not a real Christian.”

        The eternal security doctrine prevents the certainty it means to give. My pastor committed the no true Scotsman fallacy, by trying to explain away evidence against the eternal security doctrine, which no one believed before Calvin taught it.

        Our Lord teaches that he who believes and is baptized will be saved and that he who does not believe will be condemned. So I’m sure Judas knew Christ did that. Since the Savior used the word “and,” perhaps Judas got damned because hr stopped believing in Christ and the gospel. He may have stopped being a Christian when or before he betrayed Christ.

      • About Judas: We observe even in our day people who appear to be Christian, even teaching Christianity accurately, who later reject the faith. They may in some sense be Christians before their apostasy, but if predestination is true then they were never truly Christians.
        We have to treat people who appear to be Christians as if they are true believers, but a few of these people will end up outside the faith. See 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

        Regarding that hypothetical “Congratulations, buddy. Now that you’re a Christian there’s no way for you to lose your salvation. You’ll go to Heaven no matter what you do on earth.” It is possible for believers in Christ to commit heinous sins, but a Christian will repent, sooner or later. People are not “saved no matter what they do on earth.” I think that even Judas could have been forgiven, if he had repented. But he did not, as far as we know.

        Those who are predestined to be saved are also predestined to do whatever is required for them to be saved. This is not a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card.

      • Your point sounds right to me. But I still have the problem I described with the example about Dr. Stanley’s service. Sometimes I wonder whether I’m a real Christian.

        I believe each person has original sin from birth. For a Catholic, the phrase “original sin” stands for two things, the sin Adam and Eve committed to fall from grace and the absence of the holiness each of us would have been born with if our first parents hadn’t fallen. Catholics think the Holy Ghost gives us that holiness when we get baptized. So it seems to me that if an infant dies after baptism and before what you might call “the age of accountability,” he’ll go straight to Heaven.

        Even some adults don’t reach the age of accountability. For example, if I’d been born too stupid to know right from wrong, my mental age would be much lower than my current age in years. But after baptism, I could still go to Heaven because my baptism infused what Catholics call “the theological virtues,” faith, hope, and Christian love. In that case, I wouldn’t knowingly accept Christ. But baptism would still have added me to the Church.

        Many people believe that the Catholic Church has rejected the doctrine about the Limbo of the Infants. But she hasn’t. Limbo is a place where unbaptized infants go to enjoy perfect natural happiness. Since they haven’t got baptized or gone through a substitute for baptism, they can’t see God face to face. The Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, teaches that nothing defiled can go to Heaven. So since no one commits any actual sin before the age of accountability, it would be unjust to damn anyone who hadn’t reached it.

        That’s partly why Catholics disagree with Luther when he tells us that the fall depraved human nature forever. He would argue that if I get to Heaven, I’ll still be incurably depraved and that Christ’s precious blood hides my depravity to help God the Father ignore it. If Luther right, it’s hard to know what the Bible means when it says that in Christ, I’m a new creature and that old things have passed away. Can you imagine how absurd it would be to hear Our Lord exclaim, “Dad, everyone I’ve saved is incurably defective. But don’t worry. You’ll never notice the imperfections?

      • The Protestant belief is that all people are sinful from birth. See, e.g., Romans 3:9—20. But God counts as righteous all those who repent and believe in Jesus. While they are in this life, they continue to sin, although probably with decreasing frequency and intensity. But they are counted as righteous, because of the merits of Christ. See Romans 3:21—26. [“Justified” means “being counted righteous.”]

        After the resurrection of the dead, God gives to each believer a new nature that does not sin. This is why they are fit for fellowship with God in Heaven.

  4. The same arguments are to be found among Catholics, although among us the “Calvinist” side is called the “Thomist” side. Probably the best name of all would be the “Pauline” side, and Calvin really should be commended rather than condemned for stating it plainly. Predestination is plainly in the Bible, and for good reason–it’s hard to deny it without falling into outright Pelagianism.

    • Bonald always the ecumenist catholic!

      I believe the Augustine-Thomist view is that God sends sufficient grace to all but sends efficacious grace only to the elect. Learned this at Throne &Calvin’s. I favor Molinism even if it does appeal more to modernists. Molinism better than apostacy.

      I have a strong instinct contra Calvinism but have nothing against Calvinists.

  5. Bonald, thanks for your comment. I agree that Pauline is a more accurate descriptor.

    We Calvinists draw a lot of flack simply for pointing out one of the more uncomfortable messages of Scripture. And many anti-Calvinists implicitly affirm predestination (or, more generally, divine Sovereignty) when, for example, they pray for God to make someone come to Christ.

  6. I need to say more about eternal security because it relates to our conversation.

    Many evangelicals remind me that salvation is a gift from our sovereign Lord Jesus Christ. Since he’s sovereign, we can’t obligate him to do anything. So we can’t make him give us a gift. But the eternal security suggests Our Lord ignores serious sins and divine justice to let impenitent mortal sinners into Heaven. It’s as though Our Lord gives me a gift, I return it to him, and slam the door. He forces me to keep it, even when I’ve rejected it. Presumption, anyone?

    • The main subject here is predestination, and if God predestines a person to be saved then obviously He also predestines that person to do whatever is necessary for him to be saved. Predestination is not independent of our actions.

      • I understand that. But I still don’t see how to reconcile Calvin’s with the passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, where Our Lord says, “He believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.” I know of some baptized people who believed before they became atheists. An atheist might convert or revert on his deathbed. But if I believe, get baptized, and become an impenitent apostate, it’s to believe that I’ll go to Heaven. So I think the eternal security doctrine is about what we’re talking.

        Our Lord’s words seem compatible with what I’m telling you because Catholics believe that salvation is a continuing process that ends in Heaven or Hell. I can be predestined to be like Christ, have a holy soul, and get condemned because I stop believing. In that case my soul and I can be temporarily holy, become an apostate, and still be damned. Our Lord may save me in some ways in this life, though I can still reject him freely after he does that.

        I’m wrong. But St. writes some things that seem to support my opinion He says that he buffets his body for fear that after preaching to others he might get disqualified. He tells the Romans something else, too. He has that no one hopes for something when he knows he already has it. So he seems to disagree with Calvin, Dr. Stanley, and others who believe in eternal security.

        Our Lord tells some Jews that if they don’t believe that he’s the Savior, they’ll die in their sins. Maybe he warned them about that because he wanted them to choose freely to accept him. Catholics beliefs that God offers each of us all the help we need to get to Heaven. But we can still refuse it. Judas did.

        I suppose you might say, “Bill, I agree with St. Paul and think we need to do penance. But like anyone else, St. Paul didn’t know for sure that he’d go to Heaven. But God knew.”ysay, “I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. So I know that I’ll go instantly to Heaven when I die.

        I can agree that though God knows whether I’ll go to Heaven, I don’t know whether I’ll endure to the end,

        Always check what I tell you. Though I mean to repeat Catholic doctrine, I may misinterpret some parts of it. I’m not a theologian. I’m only a theologically well-read layman. I know philosophy, too. But I’m not very good at either field. I’m a computer and a publisher’s proofreader. I’m no professional scholar, and I don’t qualify for the Catholic priesthood/

      • Here is one way to look at it: There is man’s perspective, and there is God’s perspective, which is mostly unknown to man (except for the information given in Scripture.)

        From our perspective, we have to fight continually to remain in the faith and if we choose to reject Christ then we are damned. But God has told us that He predestines the end result. We do not know for sure who is predestined to be saved; we only know for sure that God has predestined.

        From man’s perspective, saying “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” sounds like the No-True-Scotsman fallacy. And it would be, except that God has told us that all “True Scotsmen” persevere.

        You said “I can agree that though God knows whether I’ll go to Heaven, I don’t know whether I’ll endure to the end.” As a Protestant, I can agree with that because I also don’t know the future. It seems highly unlikely to me that I will ever reject Christ, but not being God, I cannot be 100.0000…% certain. The main difference between us here is about exactly what it takes to be saved. Historic Protestantism also believes in the concept of means of grace, although we understand them somewhat differently. Protestants read the Bible as saying that salvation is grounded on God declaring us righteous because of Christ’s work and our faith in him, and the means of grace do not actually save us, but rather strengthen our faith.

      • I don’t know the future either, my friend, and I’m glad I don’t because I don’t want to take Heaven for granted. Hell frightens me, but I don’t obsess about it. Still, I need to remember it because I could end up there. When Catholics talk about perfect contrition, we mean that perfectly contrite people feel contrition only because their sins offend God. If Hell always terrifies me, I may be scrupulous. Maybe despite my fear, I still sin mortally because I don’t want to change,

        It seems to me that if Our Lord says you’re righteous, you become righteous. It’s still his righteousness because he causes it, and it depends on him. When David the psalmist asks God to wash him to make him whiter than snow, that suggests a genuine change. When David says, “Blot out my offenses,” that doesn’t sound much like saying “Merely label me righteous.” Doesn’t the Book of Acts call baptism “the washing of regeneration?” I even remember a passage telling me that, “Baptism now saves you.” Why should I get washed if I’ll always stay “spiritually filthy?”

        Catholics don’t think we earn our places in Heaven. Instead, we believe in what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “condign merit,” God won’t say, “Allan, since you did what our contract required, I’m paying you.” No, he’ll say something more like, “I’m really grateful for what you’ve done with my help. So though I’m not obligated to pay you, I want to give you a thank-you gift. I want you to stay with me forever. Welcome to Heaven, my good and faithful servant,”

        Though I can’t do anything to earn Heaven, God can let me go there because he’s infinitely generous. Catholics don’t think legalistically about salvation. We feel honored because God gives us something far beyond anything we could deserve. We deserve Hell. But he makes us worthy of Heaven because he wants to do that.

        If I get you a Christmas gift, you need to take it when I hand it to you. You need to do something to get it. But that doesn’t mean that you earned it.

      • Our Protestant doctrine also says that those made righteous by Jesus Christ really are righteous. It is not just a fiat declaration. This is true despite our sin, which we never defeat until God brings us to Heaven. Simil justus et peccator.

        “We deserve Hell. But he makes us worthy of Heaven because he wants to do that. If I get you a Christmas gift, you need to take it when I hand it to you. You need to do something to get it. But that doesn’t mean that you earned it.”

        Protestants agree with that. It is concerning the specific mechanism that we disagree with Catholics. We see in the Bible something simpler than your system. Justification by repentance and faith alone.

        Saved Christians also battle against sin. But this does not mean that the Christian is constantly gaining and losing salvation. Unless he never was a Christian (and the truth of that is only known to God), the sinning Christian is retrogressing in his holiness but not losing his salvation.

      • Then I don’t know what Sr. Paul means when he says that he buffets his body into submission because he might be disqualified. In that passage, he suggests, at least to me, that to persevere to the end, to go to Heaven, he needs God to help him fight against his sinfulness. If sinning can’t disqualify him, what could do that? If I were an Olympic runner taking steroids, the judges might say, “Bill, you know we can’t let compete now when you’ve taken them.” Even if I don’t know whether I’ll go to Heaven, I still may need to do penance to ‘win the race.’

        What does ‘alone’ modify when you write, “We see in the Bible something simpler than your system. Justification by repentance and faith alone?” Is faith enough, or do I need repentance and justification, too? Some might think you’re contradicting yourself by implying that though faith alone saves you, to get to Heaven, you also need to repent and get justified.

        You could say that though you can alternate between holiness and unholiness during this life, in the strictest sense, you’ve been saved when you’ve entered Heaven. If you protect me from a rabid dog who wants to bite me, you may prevent him from doing that. But maybe I’ll be safe only after we go into your house, and you lock the door. A baptized infant may die and go instantly to Heaven because Christ saved him from the sins he would or could have committed if he survived.

      • Consider Romans 4:1—4 (in which Paul cites Genesis 15:6):

        What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

        So faith in God leads God to justify us. Abraham believed the promises God had made to him. For us, existing after the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, faith in God primarily means believing in Jesus.

        Repentance is a visible result of faith in Christ; for example Matthew 4:17 reads:

        From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

        Also, Acts 2:38 reads:

        And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

        Although it says “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins,” other passages of Scripture clarify that faith is the primary vehicle of our justification, that is, God declaring us to be righteous. Whenever Scripture speaks of the details and the mechanism of salvation, it identifies faith as the essential element.

        Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:27 that he wants to avoid disqualification, but “disqualification” is ambiguous: Is it losing his salvation, or some other penalty? That text is not clear, so we judge salvation by the clear passages: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…”

        To return to the theme of the post: If salvation depends on our actions we are right to worry whether we are saved, and it even makes sense to think of ourselves constantly gaining and losing salvation. But if God predestines then we can take comfort from knowing that we cannot mess up the plan. If God predestines, then our conduct might eventually reveal ourselves to have been an unbeliever all along, but we can never unsave ourselves.

  7. You’ve just quoted Bible passages showing that even if God predestines us for Heaven, our salvation still depends on what we do. Faith may be the primary way to “get saved.” But since Our Lord uses the word “and” when he says he who believes and is baptized will be saved,” baptism or a substitute for it is still a requirement for salvation. Since some people get baptized, that’s a work they do.

    We need to remember the difference between works of the law and works we do when we’re already holy. Works of the law seem to be the ones the Mosaic Covenant obligated ancient Jews to do, sacrificing lambs, for example. Those Jews seemed to believe that they could earn their places in Heaven by obeying the 613(?) Levitical laws. It’s as though they thought they could obligate God to pay them with salvation because they obeyed him. But as you know, we call Christ the “Lamb of God” partly because no matter how any lambs got sacrificed back then, the sacrifices weren’t enough to redeem us. Today, when the New Covenant has replaced the Mosaic one, Levitical obedience can’t get anyone to Heaven.

    Maybe a work of the law is anything anyone does to try to obligate God to do something in return. But if we can force him to do something, how sovereign is he? If anyone can obligate him to do something, only he can do that. But eternal security fans seem to think that God has a duty to take them to heaven, even if they live wickedly and die impenitently. So much for absolute divine sovereignty if they’re right then, eh?

    Catholics don’t believe that we can earn our salvation. We say that we can get condign merit when we’re already holy. We don’t sign a contract to make God pay us for the good things we do. Instead, he makes us holier to thank us for doing good things helps us do when we’re already in friendship with him.

    Suppose your son mows your lawn because you want him to do that. He’ll do it because he loves you and knows he should obey you when you tell him to do what he should do. He won’t expect you to pay him. But you hand him $20, saying, “Son, I’m proud of you because you did a great job. So I want to thank you for that. Buy anything you want.”

    What does the phrase “the kingdom of God” stand for when John the Baptist uses it? And why does Our Lord require Trinitarian baptism in Matthew 28? Catholics believe that though Trinitarian baptism puts holiness into the baptized person’s soul, John the Baptist’s baptisms didn’t do that, since baptism still needed to become a sacrament.

    I’ll agree that St. Paul writes ambiguously about disqualification. But if my interpretation is right, he still thought he could lose his salvation. When the Bible tells me that God predestines Christians to be Christlike, I don’t see how that guarantees they’ll always stay that way.

    What about Genesis 15 and Abraham’s righteousness? I think Dr. Robert and Dr. Scott Hahn are right when they say that when God credits Abraham with righteousness, he’s acknowledging something Abraham already has. He’s not merely calling him righteous.

    • I think you’re not acknowledging the force of the words of Scripture. For example Romans 8:28–29:

      “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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”

      These words identify God as the cause of salvation, No mention of our choices determining the outcome. Our choices reveal the outcome, but do not determine it. From our perspective, our choices are determinative. Our perspective is valid, but limited. Scripture reveals that God determines the outcome.

    • Bill, I think you and I can partially agree, in the following sense:

      I think you will agree with this: If a person does [Insert Catholic requirements for salvation here], then that person is saved.

      And I would agree with this: If a person does [Insert Protestant requirements for salvation here], then that person is saved.

      According to Bonald, predestination is also Catholic doctrine. If so, then both of us would agree that those God predestines for salvation are also predestined to do whatever it takes to be saved. They have to do these things, because otherwise they would not be saved. That means that it may look like someone is teetering on the brink of damnation, but if he was predestined to be saved then he will not fall.

      The purpose of my post was not to debate what is required for salvation. You and I will not agree on the requirements unless one of us converts. But I think it is possible for us to agree that the Bible teaches predestination, and that predestination does not offend common sense or impugn the goodness of God.

      • We can agree on a lot. But I’m not trying to debate anything. I merely gave you some evidence, especially when I posted a link to the Patristic information.

        Bonald is right. The Catholic Church does teach predestination. That’s why I linked a post to an article from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

        I don’t expect to convince you of anything. If we’re going to discuss something in detail, I’d much rather do it in person, by phone, or with Zoom. If you ever want to debate a theological topic with a Catholic, you’ll need to find an opponent who knows more than I do. I reason well when I try, and I seem pretty good at discussing natural theology with atheists. But I don’t know how to debate well.

  8. Alan, again, I don’t want to debate anything here. But I’ll keep debating natural theology with Dawkins fans because scientistic criticisms usually are easy to answer when those people caricature classical theism. Years ago, I learned that if to strike up a theological conversation with a non-Catholic Christian, something will likely go wrong. So conversations go better when someone asks to talk with me instead.

    I’m against Vatican II’s ecumenism. But I’d hate to join a heated interreligious discussion. I expect non-Catholics to disagree with me, and they’ll tell me when I’m mistaken, I hope. Still, the Orthosphere is the wrong place for me to be in an interreligious conversation, especially when I’m much more familiar with Feser’s blog subjects.

    If you wonder what the Catholic Church say about predestination, you might want to read the Catholic Encyclopedia article I linked to another post in our conversation. But there’s no more me to say about predestination when I need to focus on work and my article about what the Catholic Church teaches about Christ’s social reign.

    Thanks for “talking’” with me.

  9. Alan, God, does predestine us. But maybe we disagree on what that means. I seem to remember a Bible verse saying that God predestines us to be like Christ. For me, the question is whether I’ll always be like him if I’m like him now. A day or two ago, I heard a Catholic theologian say that we can reject it though God offers us salvation. That suggests that I could be like Our Lord and stop being that way. He told his listeners that God doesn’t create some people for Heaven and others for Hell. So remembered when you wrote that Calvin thinks we choose freely. Perhaps the theologian misinterpreted Calvinist predestination the way I did before you explained it to me.

    I don’t want to debate anything when I already know that you can teach me much more than I’ll ever prove to you. So I’m hardly an evangelist, let alone a philosopher or a theologian. Instead, I’m only a philosophically and theologically well-read computer programmer who proofreads for a publisher.

    • I am also just a philosophically- and theologically-minded layman. The reason I don’t reveal more about myself is to make it harder for the doxers.

      To clarify what Calvin said about predestination:

      First, I agree with Calvin here because he is pointing out what Scripture says. I believe it because I see it in Scripture.

      The Bible says (without using the phrase “free will”) that we do have free will, with one specific exception: Those who do not want to become Christians cannot choose to become Christians unless God changes what they want. Those to whom God has given spiritual life will desire to be Christians. See Ezekiel 36:26 and Ephesians 2:4–6. These verses emphasize God doing the work, and us responding according to the new nature He gave us.

      We become more like Christ as we are sanctified by God as a result of being justified by Him because of Jesus’s work and our faith in Him. But this work is not complete until we go to Heaven.

      In one sense, we can choose to reject Christ. Millions of people do that every day. Some of them even appeared to have been Christians yesterday, but today they look like unbelievers. But Scripture says that those who have received the gift of spiritual life cannot help believing in Jesus and those not given this gift cannot help rejecting Him.

      I believe the Bible teaches that the bottom line for being a Christian is having faith in Jesus Christ. If you have this faith then you are saved, even if your sin makes you think you are retrogressing. Although Paul does say that we must examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (II Corinthians 13:5), we will always find fault with ourselves (if we are honest), so it is better to look to Jesus and be grateful to Him for saving us. If we believe we are saved we will not lose heart in our battle against sin.

      • What’s a doxer?

        Last night I thought about the passage where Christ says, “Without me, you can do nothing.” because I wonder whether it suggests more than most people believe it does. Since he’s the second Person of the Holy Trinity, I believe that everyone and everything depends on him, God the Father, and the Holy Ghost to sustain it. You and I exist now because the divine Persons want us to do that. They give us natural life, supernatural life, the “urge” to be Christians, and help us live the Christian life.

        Life may be different for other people. But with Our Lord’s help, I always need to resist temptations, fight against my faults, and ask the Holy Trinity to keep me Heaven-bound.

      • I can agree with what you say.

        And the doxers are the SJWs who are trying to silence non-Woke bloggers by threatening their livelihoods.

  10. Alan, there’s nothing wise for me to tell you. But please share your reflections on a sermon I need to study now during Lent. You’re right. Even the saved don’t know whether they’ll enter heaven.

    • I do not when I will have time to watch the sermon. But before watching, I will say this: It depends on whether you want to see the glass 99% full or 1% empty. The Bible says that those who repent and believe in Jesus are guaranteed Heaven. 100% probability. Since man is not a machine, some who appear to be on their way to Heaven do not make it. I believe that just about everyone who worries that they might be damned even though they appear to have faith will actually be saved, because only the saved worry if they might secretly be damned.

      • If you’re too busy to hear St. Leonard’s sermon, Alan, that’s alright. If you hear it and disagree with him, know that I don’t expect it to convince you.

        Maybe each repentant person will enter heaven. But how many times do I need to repent to go there? Can I repent once that once knowing that once is enough for God to forgive me for every sin I’ll commit after that? An acquaintance of mine seemed to presume on God when he said that God would forgive him if he said, for example, “Heavenly Father, forgive me now because tonight I’ll stab my next-door neighbor to death.”

        Perhaps I’m describing something we discussed long ago, the no true Scotsman fallacy. In my other post about that fallacy, I wrote about someone who believed that since he repented and accepted Christ, he wouldn’t sin again. Sadly, he did sin again. So he thought, “After someone becomes a Christian, he’ll never sin. But since I did sin, I only thought I became one.”

        Each time I seem to repent, I may try again because I doubt that God forgave me. I’d be like a scrupulous Catholic who confesses the same example of the same kind of sin each time he goes to confession because he doubts that God forgave him when he last confessed it. I may be genuinely penitent whenever I confess that sin and still despair about whether I’ll go to heaven.

        I’ve read that some psychologists believe that scrupulosity is a symptom of OCD. If they’re right, and if I scrupulously answer altar calls, I may never know whether I became a Christian. But if St. Leonard of Port Maurice is right, I can know I’m a Christian and still need to die to know whether I’ll go to heaven.

        That’s why I need hope, an infused theological virtue I received when I got water-baptized. God wants me to go to heaven. I long to be there with him forever, and I pray he’ll help me get there. But I may still go to hell through my own fault.

      • This is the problem with not believing that justification (God’s declaration that you are fit for Heaven) is by faith alone, not by works. With this understanding the problem is simplified: Do I indeed have saving faith in Jesus Christ? Sin does not disqualify me if I have faith , because if I have faith I will eventually repent and be forgiven by God because of the death of Christ which covers my sins. People sometimes apostatize, but at any given time it is fairly clear to the individual whether he has faith in Jesus. I have a post on this ready to go, and it will appear soon.

  11. Alan, do you think Catholics believe that they need to earn their places in heaven?

    Suppose I’m an enraged genuine Christian who shoots my adulterous wife’s boyfriend. When will I repent if he shoots back killing me instantly? Can I repent after death?

    • I do not think one can repent after death. I also think God knows if you have saving faith, and He does not require a comprehensive, conscious act of repentance for every sin. After all, we often have sins of which we are not aware. I think that a general tendency to repent when one sins is probably enough. After all, God is merciful toward the penitent because of the cleansing blood of Jesus, and He knows that even a saint can fly into a rage sometimes.

  12. I agree with you. No one can repent after death. And sadly, I’ve sinned too many times to recall each sin I’ve committed since I reached the age of accountability. That’s partly why priests absolve me for even forgotten unconfessed sins.

    But how much will a general tendency to repent help me when my conscience has stopped warning me against the gravest sins I commit? How many people deaden their consciences by mistake?

    • It is the Lord who absolves and forgives. I do not know the state of your soul, but my tradition teaches that those who are in anguish over their sins should be reminded of the promises of God as recorded in Scripture. For example Romans 8:1 says

      Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.

      And John 10:28 says

      I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

      John 5:24:

      Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

      Romans 10:9:

      if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

      We should not presume on the Lord’s mercy, but these verses emphasize that it is God who saves, according to our faith rather than our deeds. Deeds reveal our salvation but are not the cause of it.

      • Alan, you’re right. God saves. But the Bible teaches that “Baptism now saves you.” So since baptism is a good work, salvation depends on one or more good works. But that doesn’t mean that I earn heaven by doing them. Catholics believe that God can give us what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “condign merit.” He doesn’t owe anyone anything. No, since he’s infinitely generous, he gives us “thank-you gifts” for what he helps us do when the Holy Trinity is present in our souls.

        That presence is why the Bible says we partake of the divine nature. We don’t become divine. Each time we do good works God asks us to do, He makes us more like Christ. We become holier.

        Luther was wrong. The Psalmist says, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” And that hardly suggests that even in heaven, we’ll be incurably depraved. After all, the Book of Revelation insists that nothing defiled can go there. Our Lord tells us to, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” But I can’t do that on my own. And Our infinitely good Savior would be unjust to tell us to do something we couldn’t do even with his help.

        I’m telling you these things because I agree with the Bible passages you quoted. But my agreement presupposes theological distinctions that may be new to many non-Catholic Christians. To understand what Catholics believe, non-Catholic Christians need to understand some of those distinctions.

      • It sounded to me as if you were not sure whether you were saved. Not sure whether you were going to Heaven.

        It sounded like you believed that you had to do a bunch of things, and you were not sure you could meet the requirements for Heaven.

        That is why I tried to point you to the Word of God, the Bible.

        When the Bible speaks about the specific mechanism of salvation, the specific thing that saves us, it says that we are saved by being forgiven by God on account of the finished work of Jesus Christ and our faith in him.

        As for “Baptism now saves you,” the more correct understanding comes from Mark 16:16: “The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned.”

        Failure to be baptized is not the cause of condemnation. It is the lack of belief.

        God supplies the righteousness we need, whether in this life or when we die and go to Heaven. Consider Philippians 3:8,9:

        More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

  13. Sometimes something may reduce my blameworthiness when I feel rage. But even a Christian can hold grudges. So I need to remember the Bible verse warning me that if I won’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me.

    • Rage comes in an instance, but forgiveness takes time. It takes a God-given gift for forgiveness. If we cannot do it in our own power we must ask our Heavenly Father to help us.

      As Christians we need to keep our eyes on our Savior and His promises. Given enough time, we will always fail, so we must not become so obsessed with our own sins that we forget the greatness of our Savior.

  14. Alan, my friend, why do you need to change the tense in Mark 16:16 when you interpret that verse? The phrase “has believed” could suggest that I can still get to heaven, even if I no longer believe. But that’s hard to believe when we know that to please God I must first have faith. Some people think they’re likely to go to heaven because they’re naturally kind. Sadly, though, natural kindness can’t sanctify anyone.

    I’m happy to agree that God supplies righteousness, Catholics still need to disagree with any evangelical, though, who says that God merely says we’re righteous without making us righteous. Someone needs to tell me what Luther means by “sanctification” if that reformer believes depraved people keep their depravity in heaven. Luther sounds presumptuous when he urges us to sin boldly because we can’t help it. After fighting painful scruples for years, he surrendered expecting God to save him no matter what sin he, Luther, committed. I’m not suggesting that each evangelical agrees with Luther. I’m writing about him because Lutheranism is the only Christian religion I’ve learned much about.

    Forgive me for nitpicking about language when I do that because I proofread for a Catholic publisher. Though I don’t mean to split hairs, I wish people would use the active voice when they ask, “Are you saved?” when they know Catholics believe salvation continues until we reach purgatory or heaven.

    God saved me from the original sin when baptism sanctifies my soul. He protects me from temptation by always giving me a way to avoid or resist it. When I sin mortally, the blessedness will leave my soul. But he’ll return it when I confess through a priest who absolves me using the authority Christ gave him with the power of the keys. If I can’t confess, God will restore that holiness if I’m sorry for my sins only because they offend him. The question is whether I’ll persevere to the end. It’s whether I’ll be holy when I die. If there’s no holiness in my soul when my life ends, I’ll go to hell.

    Do I know I’ll go to heaven? No, I don’t. That’s where hope the theological virtue comes in. I long to go to heaven, and with God’s help, I can. But even you and Calvin agree that here on earth, no one knows for sure that he’ll enter it. I’m glad I’m unsure because I’d hate to take heaven for granted. Remember, St. Paul tells the Romans that people don’t hope for what they already have.

    That’s why the eternal security doctrine sounds presumptuous. Though eternal security advocates insist on God’s sovereignty and remind me that salvation is a gift, they talk as though they can obligate him to welcome them to heaven, even if they live morally evil lives after they accept Christ. I see things differently. In my opinion, after I become a Christian, I can still reject God and become a “dish at the everlasting barbecue.” If Our Lord come to my home to give me a present will he make me keep it when I throw it back to him and slam the door in his face? Charles Stanley reminds us that no one can snatch us from God’s hand. But nobody snatches me if I jump off.

    God might say, “I love Bill. So I want him to join me here in heaven. But I’m not going to force him to come here, and he can’t make let him in. Since it’s my home, I’m in charge. I’m sovereign. Satan knows my Son is the Savior. But since he rejected Him, believing isn’t enough. Satan hates me too much for him to repent. And now that he’s , he knows he’s the only one to blame for his suffering.” I can believe that Christ is my Lord and Savior while I live as though atheism is true.


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