Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tainted Will, Predestined for Grace?

In the event that grace is universal, what does that say about the doctrine of predestination? Honestly, I’m not a fan of predestination because of its ability to condemn humanity and because I believe that Christ died for all creation (humanity). In some respect, this would fit well with Arminianism, which is where my Salvation Army background comes into play. Unfortunately, I no longer believe in a decisional theology (as that is part of the Theology of Glory). I am more inclined to agree with Karl Barth’s doctrine of predestination – Christ died for all humanity and the grace of God is not limited to any elect group – but I’m not sure I’m prepared to accept the consequences of such a position. Some could call this cheap grace, others could say it removes the possibility of condemnation (which has serious implications about hell), and I’d call it the conflict of grace. I have been stuck on this issue ever since I conducted my research on the book of Jonah and the vexing nature of the closing question in the book. God asks Jonah why divine grace and mercy should not be shown to a nation of unbelievers. Those people made no decision to accept God as Lord, those people never heard of Jesus Christ (because the events of Christ had not happened at that point in history), those people were responsible for destroying the nation of Israel (God’s “chosen people”), and, yet, God does not destroy them. Why, because they turned from their ways? Perhaps. But, there was never a confession of faith to the God of the Israelites.

Since I have this conflict of grace, do I believe in free will? I have several problems with free will because I do believe that humanity is fallen and totally depraved. I cannot negate that Original Sin makes me a sinner, so I cannot choose to not be a sinner. Furthermore, arguing that I have the freedom to accept or reject my salvation undermines the sovereignty of God to some extent and I’d rather avoid that as much as possible. “But he who hesitates not to depend wholly upon the good-will of God, he totally despairs in himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such an one, is the nearest unto grace, that he might be saved” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will). Ergo, I do not accept a doctrine of free will.

Returning to doctrines of predestination, I stand in reverence of God’s work through the cross and the suffering of Christ to save humanity. And, therefore, acknowledge that I am saved by grace alone. It is that reverence for God and repentance of the condition of sin (not to be mistaken with individual sins) also known as, total depravity, that makes one bound to the redeeming work of the cross. In this fashion, I accept that people are predestined to receive the grace of God. For, it is not predestination that I wrestle with, but election and condemnation that trouble me. For now, I will have to live in the tension that I believe in God, I believe in universal grace and I believe that Christ is the only means of salvation.

Looking to grace as my response, I take into account that humanity is fallen, I affirm that divine grace is universal, and that I can, at the same time, reject grace. Nevertheless, one’s ability to reject grace does not affirm a doctrine of free will; for, as Luther puts it, a free will in humans is useless without the grace of God (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will). Yet, I have the ability to reject the gift of grace, but if I do so, I am rejecting faith itself. In reality, I can neither support free will or predestination – because I’d have to ask, who will be saved? And that, my friends, is a mystery held in the sovereignty of God.

Moreover, one cannot throw the two matters – free will and God’s sovereign will to predestine people to receive grace – to the wind. According to Augustine, we would hinder the means by which God grants humanity justification if we were to ignore the human will and/or the sovereignty of God. Besides, Tertullian jacked the concept of free will from the Stoics and fused it with Christian ideas (Alister McGrath, Historical Theology). In light of that and how Luther soundly rebukes the idea, I am inclined to adjust my terms. As a human, I have a will to make choices in life and some of those choices may include denying God’s divine gifts (faith, grace, and salvation) – Yet, this will of mine is not free because I am a sinner, thanks to the Fall (original sin), and my will is corrupted by that fact. Only grace overthrows the corruption of sin. “The assistance of grace is exalted: therefore, “Free Will” is abolished” (Luther, Will). At this point, I’ve taken quite a while to articulate where I stand on the matters of predestination and free will. It has become clear, that free will is not so free, and, therefore, does not work for me. Divine grace, on the other hand, unites me to Christ in a way that my will never could obtain.

Essentially, by rejecting free will, I singlehandedly dismiss all things that lead to religious piety and the guilt that sustains such behavior. “For by their "Free-will," they have made Christ to be unto them no longer a sweet Mediator, but a dreaded Judge, whom they strive to please…” (Luther, Will). As was mentioned earlier on, the mediation of Christ and his grace, takes hold of the helplessness of humanity by its wrist to intervene out of love for creation. More specifically, “No one (saith He) shall pluck them out of My hand, because My Father which gave them Me is greater than all. (John x. 27-28). Hence it is certain, that in this way, if all are not saved, yet some, yea, many shall be saved; whereas by the power of "Free-will," no one whatsoever could be saved, but all must perish together” (Luther, Will). Honestly, the fact that I have debated this at such length probably makes me less of a Lutheran because Luther believed the discussion on free will should be “left alone.” Nevertheless, I set out to address the matters of my faith and my task is ongoing. Returning to my initial question, regarding the doctrine of predestination, how does grace change the picture? Grace is universal – God is merciful and gracious to all of creation – therefore humanity is destined, or “predestined,” if you will, to receive the grace of God. It is the rejection of God’s divine gifts (faith, grace, righteousness, and salvation) and the rejection Jesus Christ – the resurrected son of God – that deny us the gift of salvation. Technically, one might be able to say my views ascribe to the doctrine of predestination. Truthfully, I am unsure of that and feel a little bad that I wrote at such length to deny free will, which Luther did a better job of anyway; only to say, It is by the loving grace of a merciful God and not by the will of man that one is saved from condemnation.


  1. In defining free will, if you look at paragraph two, I define what it is not, and, therefore, the opposite of my statements would define the concept of free will and why I wholly reject the doctrine of free will.

  2. My understanding of Barth's views were not formed from reading Barth directly and that was probably not the best move on my part; additionally, the predestination section of this discourse (more than other parts) was a work in progress. I opened with comments referring to Barth on predestination that were vague at best. I read about Barth's view in several locations and just sort of summarized what I thought they meant and that his critics thought he was a universalist. The part I got right about Barth is that grace is received through the work of Christ alone. The part in question was my use of the word "elect" and I no longer remember my source for that comment; yet, it was likely an attempt to consolidate what I read from my combined sources. If you like, you can disregard my comments on Barth for predestination because it doesn't alter my conclusions on predestination.