Let’s not beat around the bush. The New Testament strongly affirms predestination – so much so that some Christians are driven to believe that God causally determines absolutely all things that comes to pass, even evil. Some of the strongest verses in support of such an idea are those like the following:
“Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.” (1 Peter 2:7,8)
“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
There are, of course, many other verses which speak about predestination. I choose only these two because they seem the hardest to wiggle out of. The logic of these texts seem to be that those who believe were predestined to believe and those who disobey were predestined to disobey. And this implies the doctrine of double predestination – before the foundation of the world God chose specifically who he will save and who he will damn.
Notice, however, a strange fact. Following many of these double predestination texts there are appeals made by the author to his audience that they continue in obedience to God. I call this strange because, if God in fact predestines minutely every act of history, particular people themselves do not really have any ability to abstain from sin and disobedience. I’d like to use the passage from Peter above to flesh out what I mean.
After Peter has just told us that there were people “destined” to disobey, he basically devotes the rest of his letter to urging people to do good and resist evil. With that in mind lets examine the logical implications of the Calvinist doctrine that God determines all, even disobedience. Try to follow closely because this theological seed bears good fruit.
If it is true that from before the creation of the world God has unilaterally predestined all that comes to pass, it is false that things could possibly be different than they in fact will be. If God predestines all there is no real possibility in things themselves to be actually other than they in fact are or will be. Everything that exists gets its actual existence from God’s eternal decree. All human choices – good and evil – ultimately are what they are, not because humans have freely determined how they will choose, but because God has created them to be what they in fact are. Given God’s decree, nothing can in fact be otherwise than it eternally will be.
Now, this is a logical implication of the idea that God has predestined all that comes to pass in the Calvinist sense. The problem is, this implication is refuted several times over in the remainder of Peter’s letter. Peter clearly believes that possibilities are real. That is, he clearly believes that certain things depend, not on God’s predestined and irresistible determination, but on the free acts of human beings themselves. Peter believes that the universe God made is one in which various things might – and therefore might not – come to pass.
To prove my point I’m going to paste a large portion of the remainder of his letter and insert my comments. The words in red are words that become non-sensical if absolute determinism is true.
*****1 Peter 2
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (This “may” becomes meaningless if God has determined all. The chosen people either will declare praises, or they will not, there is no middle ground.)…11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority… (Commands to abstain and submit are meaninglessly made to those who are tempted if they do not themselves have any ability to follow the command. That would be like commanding water not to boil at a certain temperature or commanding the grass to grow when it has not received any rain. Furthermore, what is with Peter’s urgency? If God has determined everything, nothing actually CAN happen that he should be worked up about. God’s will is always being done everywhere, hence the anxiety should evaporate.)
20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you,leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (Again, this “if” – this conditional – is meaningless if God has determined everything because there really are no possibilities in the first place. Everything follows the necessity of God’s decree. Notice too how Peter says we “should” suffer for good’s sake. That is a proclamation about how things ought to be. Therefore either they can be a certain way but sometimes are not, or they cannot be a certain way, regardless. The first can only be true if it is possible for God’s will to be thwarted or resisted. The second can only be true if God determines everything. Yet if God determines everything what sense is there in saying things “should” be different? God has determined absolutely all things. That would be equivalent to saying God should have done differently than he did, which no one believes – Calvinist or Open Theist.)
24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (“Mights” and possibilities are meaningless if God has determined all. Notice too Christ is “overseer” of souls, not “absolute determiner.”)
3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives... You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (Conditionals are impossible if God has determined all.)
9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (Again, this conditional is impossible if God has predetermined everything. Also notice in this verse Peter implies that our calling itself has a conditional aspect to it. I.e. we were called so that we should freely imitate Christ.)
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built… (How can God “wait patiently” or “endure with much longsuffering” that which he has absolutely determined should be just the way it is?)
4 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (This “but rather” implies that God’s will is something that can – and therefore cannot be – lived for. The people beforehand were living through early and evil desires, which was not the will of God, or Peter could not go on to make the contrast with living in accord with God’s will. Thus he assumes it is possible to live “against” the will of God, which is impossible if God determines all.)
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ… (These commands to be alert, to love, and to use various gifts are all nonsensical if those to which they are spoken do not themselves possess the ability to carry out the commands themselves.)
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you... (The notion of God “testing” that which he has predetermined in absolutely every respect is meaningless.)
16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name…19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (This implies that there is a way to suffer that is NOT according to God’s will: i.e. by being bitter and ashamed of God rather than “praising God that you bear that name.” But it is impossible to do anything contrary to God’s will if he determines all.)
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (If God has determined all, “resisting” Satan – in fact “resisting” anything – is impossible for the creature itself. It only will resist if God has preordained that it will.)
So – it seems to me that whatever Peter meant when he said people were “destined” to disobey, he did not really think that God predestines absolutely everything that comes to pass. Once again, Scripture, taken as a whole, presents a bigger picture than what many theological systems try to define. Where they try to pin it down, it rears up. Where they try to encompass it, it alludes them. As CS Lewis said,
“I am afraid that is the sort of thing we come up against in Christianity. I am puzzled, but I am not surprised… Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”