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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Everything you've never wanted to know about predestination

So a few people have been asking me about the theology of predestination.  Below is a paper I wrote about it during my M. Div.  Enjoy!(?)
Hooker and Predestination
Among the many choices of contentious and controversial topics which a theologian can choose to discuss, address or devote a large part of their academic and/or pastoral careers to, predestination is perhaps one of the thorniest, and yet this is precisely what Richard Hooker (1554-1600) chose to address throughout his career.  In the past as today, the topic of predestination tends to embroil the theologian in inescapable paradoxes and contradictions involving such diverse yet inextricably linked concepts as free will, salvation, grace, sin and the nature or will of God.  Hooker was no exception to this tendency.  Hooker taught against the theology of predestination which was current during his lifetime, claiming against his opponents that God could be petitioned or swayed, that He had “a mutable and occasioned will” (Neelands Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 1).
Neelands (ibid.) states that although Hooker “did not publish any treatise on predestination…Hooker had, nonetheless, considerable interest in this important and controversial topic, and referred to it throughout his public career”.  It is interesting to note that Hooker’s writings are indeed shot through with references to election, predestination, free will, grace, salvation and a variety of other issues that are endemic to the predestination debate, so it is indeed odd that Hooker never dedicated a published work to the issue when so many of his sermons, debates and publications touched on it in so direct a manner.  Nonetheless, this paper will outline the controversy over predestination and Hooker’s theology of predestination.
It is of course necessary to understand some of the arguments surrounding the theology of predestination in order to appreciate Hooker’s stance on it.  In its most general sense, the theology of predestination concludes that God is omniscient, omnipotent, has existed before time and in fact exists outside time.  As such, He had already predetermined the fate of the universe prior to His having created it.  In broad terms then, this means that God had foreknowledge of the Fall of humankind in Adam and Eve before He had even created them.  By extension, not only was this event foreseen by God, but more disturbingly it was foreordained, willed and even compelled by God to happen.  More specifically, predestination must conclude that as God is the author of all and that He has full knowledge of the future, the eternal destiny of each individual’s immortal soul is therefore foreordained and predetermined by God’s decree.
Predestination is often subdivided into several different categories based on somewhat nuanced theology, and typically these are called single predestination and double predestination.  Single predestination is the less stringent of the two theories and is based on the idea that “God grants the gift of his presence as an act of sheer grace…God's gift is independently willed by him and is in no sense a response to some human act” (Encarta 2004 Predestination).  In this theology, the fate of an individual is not decided by God prior to their birth, but God decides at some point over the course of their life whether or not to grant them salvation through His free gift of grace.  Therefore, God has nonetheless established through His own decree that only some people are to be saved, and that those people will be saved by a free and undeserved outpouring of God’s grace and love.
The theory of double predestination is an inescapable conclusion which stems from the concept of single predestination.  It concludes that “because salvation and glory are predestined, it follows that condemnation and destruction must also be predestined” (ibid.).  Augustine (354-430) was one of the first theologians to develop and expound upon the theology of predestination, and although his initial conclusions supported the concept of Double Predestination, he softened his views later in life:
Although Augustine initially accounted for election because of foreseen faith, he later came to see that it was entirely favour, liberality and grace that determined the act of the will of God to elect some and justice that determined the act of the will of God to condemn those not chosen (Neelands Dublin Fragments course notes 2008: 4).

Predestination did not seem to have become such a critical theological issue or at least to have found wide find popular acceptance until the Reformation when it was described by Swiss Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564).  Unlike other theologians such as Augustine who changed their stances on certain issues over the courses of the lives, Calvin did not, and he was a staunch advocate of predestination throughout his life.  Calvin is associated particularly with double predestination, stating that
We call predestination God's eternal decree, by which he determined within himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others” (Institutes 3. 21. 5). 

In a Reformation-era atmosphere, Hooker would draw criticism for his stance against many of the tenets of Calvinism including predestination, and particularly for his 1585 sermon A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown in which he defended the theology of justification by faith, most often associated with Martin Luther (1483-1546).  In the same sermon, he was also criticized for extending salvation to Roman Catholics, whom many Reformation-era thinkers deemed to be beyond the pale of salvation due to their superstitious ‘popery’.  Calvinists would state that Roman Catholics were not part of the elect due to the corruption of their practices and beliefs, and would be disturbed by Hooker extending the possibility of salvation to them.  Needless to say, in the Geneva-church setting in which Hooker found himself, such ideas did not go over terribly well.
God: The Source of Evil?
            The principle difficulty which makes predestination theologically untenable, and one of the points with which Hooker was therefore primarily concerned was the fact that there is evil and sin in the world.  Followed through to its logical conclusion, predestination in general and double predestination in particular result in the inescapable conclusion that while God is the source, creator and author of all that is good, God, through commission or omission of action, must  also be the source, creator and author of all that is evil.  But this idea is theologically and morally repugnant.  As Neelands (Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 6) states,
On the contrary, God’s will delights only in good things: we cannot always penetrate God’s will, but know that God does not will anything unjust or evil; God’s commandments cannot be inconsistent with his own wisdom.

A belief in predestination would necessitate a belief in a God who not only deliberately creates temptations in order to test humanity, but who also deliberately creates evil itself and who generates a certain number of people knowing, willing and in fact forcing them to be eternally damned from the outset.  Theologically, this poses an enormous problem in that supposedly God is the very definition of good, the very manifestation of love, kindness and compassion.  How could believers possible reconcile the goodness of a God who creates sin and evil, and who knowingly and willingly creates untold numbers of people for the sole purpose of inescapable damnation?  Simply put, the two notions are irreconcilable.
            Problematically though, to not believe in predestination is to imply certain limits to God’s abilities or at least His willingness to exercise them.  To state that our destinies are either undecided or unknown and that the course of history is not set by God is to imply either that God is not omniscient or omnipotent.  In an alternate scenario, God is both omniscient and omnipotent, which would mean that He creates evil, wills it to befall us and although He could do something to stop it, willingly allows it to happen to us.  This is not an easy paradox to extricate oneself from, but Hooker attempts to do so admirably by making a distinction between foreknowledge and foreappointment:
God must have foreknown that there would be evil, but would this not compromise his goodness? Hooker takes a traditional theological line on this matter. God’s foreknowledge depends, in part, on his perfect knowledge of secondary causes; and God also foresees the possibilities that are never actualized. But God’s foreknowledge does not come from any foreappointment or predetermination of all things, as others have held. That means that God foreknows sin, since sin is a possibility, but does not foreordain it: God is not the author of sin, as he would be if it were foreordained (Neelands Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 6).

In this distinction, it becomes clear that while God knows we will sin, He does not will or compel us to, nor does He want us to.
            But what then is the will of God?  As noted earlier, God was conceived as a being who was the very manifestation of goodness, who delights in good and therefore His will must therefore always be for the good.  Certainly, Hooker must have believed that some people would ultimately be saved and some would be damned, so the concepts surrounding the will of God needed to be nuanced.  Therefore, Hooker proposed several different modes or expressions of God’s will:
Referring to Augustine’s De Trinitate, Hooker distinguishes between God’s determinate (that is, as Hooker has established, non-necessitated) will as it is positive, in ‘whatsoever himselfe worketh’, and permissive, in that ‘he willeth by permission, that which his creatures doe’. Hooker then goes on to add, unsupported by the quotation from Augustine, a third form of determinate will, a ‘negative or privative will alsoe wherby he withholdeth his graces from some’ (Neelands Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 6-7).

In this sense, God has a positive will in that He can and does actively will and cause certain things to happen, a permissive will in that he ‘wills by permission’ human beings to do certain things, and a privative will which is not so much a commission of action on His part as it is an omission of action.  Indeed, Scripture would seem to bear this out in that it portrays God as
casting some asleep, hardening some hearts, and taking things away from some, which descriptions are to be understood in terms of God’s withholding what he could give, for instance vigilance, a softening of the heart, and a gift or grace.  This interpretive structure will become important later in diffusing alleged cases from Scripture where God appears actively to make the reprobate obdurate (Neelands Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 7).

Hooker’s distinction still presents some difficulties though, for at least in the case of the positive and privative manifestations of God’s will, God still seems to be hopelessly manipulative in the case of the former and hopelessly obstructive in the case of the latter.  It is only in the manifestation of His permissive will that He seems to allow for that which was so important for Hooker to retain: free will.
Free Will and Grace
            Philosophically speaking, the notion of predestination is attractive in that it does away with the problem of infinite regress one encounters when seeking the Unmoved Mover, but it continues to be problematic in that it makes God the Unmoved Mover, thereby obviating from the individual any and all responsibility for his or her actions.  In brief, it negates free will.  Key to Hooker’s theology of justification by faith, as well as his understanding and refutation of predestination was his concept of grace and how it related to the notion of free will.  Hooker believed that grace was freely given by God, but that there were three different senses of grace: “(1) God’s undeserved love and favour; (2) offered means of outward instruction; and (3) that grace that works inwardly” (Neelands Dublin Fragments course notes 2008: 1).  According to Hooker, although grace is freely bestowed on us by God and is necessary for salvation, we are equally free to refuse that grace or turn away from it.  In other words, grace is not irresistible nor is it coercive: “Neither foreknowledge, nor predestination, nor grace, impose necessity on human freedom; God’s grace, both external and internal, draws us amiably not by force; grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it” (ibid.).  Therefore, for Hooker, human will was by nature free, and even the free gift of grace could not disrupt that.  One can and often does choose to withstand that grace which is external, but if one accepts the external grace which is offered by God, one is free to be saved by that grace which then becomes internalized: “God makes free external offers of grace, but also inwardly illumines us through grace; there is no free desire for heavenly things without the grace of God working in us” (ibid.).
            A dichotomy which still existed in this aspect of the debate on free will was the notion that if a human did anything good, it was God’s doing, but if that same human did anything bad, then that human was responsible.  Yet Hooker believed that it need not be so simplistic: “Although the state of glory will take away any possibility of sinning, in our present state grace does not take away the possibility of sinning nor compel our wills to good actions” (ibid.).  Essentially, Hooker verifies that human beings, by virtue of grace which manifests itself as reason, know the difference between good and evil, but can exercise the option to choose not to do the good.  Whereby this may not achieve them salvation, it restores free will.
            It was of course salvation with which Hooker, his contemporaries and the average churchgoer were ultimately concerned.  Perhaps the biggest question is the following: doesn’t the life, sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a propitiation for our sins obviate the need for any and all discussion about salvation?  Furthermore, if Christ was a necessary and sufficient sacrifice for our salvation, were not the sacraments, faith or works therefore rendered moot?  Not so, according to Hooker.  In his view, salvation was not universally distributed because it did require a minimal effort on humankind’s part to reach out and receive it.  This minimal effort required was an “actual participation in the Church, the body of Christ” (Neelands Book 5 course notes 2008: 2).  Hooker saw the observance of the sacraments as participation in the church community, and necessary to salvation in that they were vehicles of God’s grace: “Sacraments are ordained by God as signs to help identify God’s gift and as conditional promises of his grace…The sacraments are necessary but it is God who conveys grace through them” (ibid.).  Therefore, it would seem that while Hooker was indeed a proponent of justification by faith, that faith required action, and it was through the sacraments that this action was taken.
            For Hooker, the sacraments were not all equal in terms of importance with regards to salvation, it would seem.  Even though the authors of A Christian Letter (Neelands course notes 2008: 1) include it as one of his ‘mistakes’, Hooker did indeed believe that “baptism (not just predestination) [is] necessary to salvation”.  For Hooker, although perhaps faith makes us members of the church invisible, “Baptism is admission into the visible church” (Neelands Christology and the Sacraments course notes 2008: 3), and this admission was necessary although not sufficient for salvation.  Once again, however, we are caught in a paradox:
But the doctrine of election is a problem; for probably not all that are baptized are elect.  Yet the converse is true: all of the elect must be baptized.  Election does not make the means of grace unnecessary, and the sacraments are necessary to sanctification and the path towards glorification. The means whereby we are actually brought to enjoy what God has foreseen and decreed for the elect, involves the very participation, by growth and degrees, in the humanity of Christ, which the sacraments confer…Thus Hooker could say that all who receive baptism receive grace, that all the elect receive baptism, and that not all that receive baptism are elect (ibid.).

Hooker had to try to extricate himself from this confusion, and he does so admirably:
Predestination bringeth not to life, without the grace of externall vocation, wherein our baptisme is implied…Wee justly hold [baptism] to be the doore of our actuall enterance into Gods howse, the first apparent beginninge of life…but to our sanctification here a step that hath not anie before it (ibid.).

Therefore in Hooker’s view, “It is wrong to conclude that because faith is necessary, it is sufficient to attain all grace” (Neelands Book 5 course notes 2008: 3), it would also seem to be wrong to conclude the same thing about baptism.  For Hooker, while the sacraments in general and baptism in particular were both necessary for salvation, they were not sufficient for salvation.  In addition, faith was required, and this faith was an inward grace which began with an acceptance of the tokens of signs of outward grace, namely the sacraments.
             It has already been mentioned as odd that Hooker never published a work specifically addressing the notion of predestination.  It is next to impossible to isolate and discretely discuss any one theological issue without incorporating a number of other issues, and predestination is no exception.  As we have seen, any discussion of predestination needs to include the topics of grace, free will, the will of God and salvation.  Perhaps Hooker simply realized that as his other works touched on all of these issues and that they were all interrelated, there was no need or utility in addressing predestination separately.
One issue which has yet to be sufficiently resolved in my mind involves an inconsistency in Hooker’s theology and indeed what I consider to by an irreconcilable conundrum inherent to the theology of predestination, salvation and the efficacy of the sacraments.  Hooker opposed the idea of predestination on the grounds that God has a “mutable and occasioned will” (Neelands Twenty-one Errors ascribed to Richard Hooker by the authors of A Christian Letter course notes 2008: 1).  In other words, one can petition God with prayer and, I would assume, deeds and works.  As Neelands (Dublin Fragments course notes 2008: 4-5) summarizes, “Of the necessity of labour to concur on our part with the will of God in justifying and sanctifying his elect, that in them they may be glorified.  Yet we must labour”.  Did Hooker consider the sacraments to be deeds and works?  As we have seen, Hooker was a proponent of salvation by faith, which concludes that no amount or quality of works is sufficient to sway God’s will.  Only faith is necessary and sufficient.  Where then would he situate the sacraments?  Would they be ‘works’ or ‘faith’?  As mentioned above, Hooker considered baptism to be that first and necessary step in to the visible church, but that in and of itself it was not sufficient to secure salvation.  As Neelands (Hooker and Predestination course notes 2008: 23) rightly points out, “this drives Hooker to the edge of contradiction: grace is offered to all; grace cannot fail; but some, it seems, are not saved”.  Hooker believed that the sacraments in general and baptism in particular were necessary for salvation.  This would seem to contradict the notion of salvation by faith, particularly when one considers the fact that in infant baptism, of which Hooker was a supporter, the infant has not achieved a level of intellectual maturity where he/she can actually make an honest profession of faith.  Although Hooker admirably manages to negotiate many of the conundrums surrounding predestination, it would seem that some of them remain unresolved.

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