Predestination Second—Love First!

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Have this clearly in mind: Salvation is not based on predestination. Rather, predestination is based on salvation.

Many people get mixed up at this point. Some Christians see predestination as the key to salvation. We are saved (if we are) because of an irrevocable decision or “decree” that the Sovereign God made before the world began.

But what does the Bible say? Not that we are saved because of an eternal decree of God. That is warped way of understanding predestination.

Rather, we are saved by God’s gracious provision of salvation for all. We are fully convinced that Jesus Christ “died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5:15).

Biblically, predestination means that those who fully trust Jesus Christ for salvation are “pre-destined” to be conformed to his image as they walk in the light. “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 within a large family” (Rom. 8:29).

In other words, predestination is the pre-determination of the “destination” to which salvation leads. Salvation means the restoration of God’s image in us, and ultimately it means that “universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21).

Biblically, predestination does not refer to God’s particular will for particular people, but rather to the certainty and sovereignty of God’s gracious plan of salvation in history, whereby salvation is offered to all and will finally fully be accomplished in justice, judgment, and mercy.

Doubts about Dordt

Many Christians understand Scripture primarily through the lens of the canons of the Council of Dordt, held in Holland in 1618-19. A few years ago I heard a theologian friend who defends this brand of Reformed theology say the Council of Dordt is the definitive statement of the meaning of salvation. He seemed to place this one council above Scripture.

This view of salvation was succinctly stated by the Dutch Reformed author Arnold A. van Ruler in his 1989 book, Calvinist Trinitarianism and Theocentric Politics: Essays Toward a Public Theology (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press). Van Ruler wrote: “In the matter of eternal election, everything depends on the free sovereign power of God. . . . God’s free sovereign power seeks to be mirrored in the willingness by which we approve of God in his sovereignty. That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s sovereignty, eventually in the form of resigning oneself to reprobation (resignatio ad infernum)” (p. 83).

This is not in fact what “redemption is all about,” however. This is a narrow view that makes what is second first, and what is first, second.

How different were John Wesley’s views! Van Ruler’s formulation can be restated in a more Wesleyan (and biblical) way as follows: “In the matter of eternal election, everything depends on the free sovereign love and grace of God. God’s free sovereign grace seeks to be mirrored in the willingness by which we responsibly accept and respond to God. That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s love, fully trusting in God’s loving character and sovereign power in full fidelity to his covenant promises.”

“That, after all, is what redemption is all about: plunging oneself into the abyss of God’s love, fully trusting in God’s loving character and sovereign power in full fidelity to his covenant promises.”

This then is the entryway to the fulfillment of all God’s marvelous promises to bring his kingdom in fullness.

God’s love and grace come first—God’s will that all be saved. Predestination guarantees the final destiny of all who accept and continue to walk faithfully in God’s grace.

Thank God that through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit we know the destination to which faithful following of the Savior leads. And thank God we are being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ as we walk in this way.

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder’s main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

1 COMMENT

  1. Although I respect Dr. Howard Snyder, who was a former professor of the history and theology of mission at Asbury Theological Seminary, I could not disagree more with his post.

    According to what is usually called the “golden chain of redemption,” salvation is based on predestination.

    Romans 8:30, “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

    So, according to this verse, those whom God predestined have also been called, justified and glorified.

    Who are these “whom God predestined? The answer is found in the verse cited by Dr. Snyder. Those “whom He foreknew,” that is, those whom God foreknew, God “also predestined.” Therefore, How can the professor say that Salvation is not based on predestination?

    Salvation is most certainly based on God’s sovereign predestination for salvation does not depend upon our will but upon God’s will.

    In Romans 9:16 we read “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” Ted Sims put it nicely when he said, “I did not choose to be born into this worldly kingdom and I did not choose to be born into God’s kingdom. “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).

    The professor stated that “we are saved by God’s gracious provision of salvation for all.” What group of people is Professor Snyder referring to when he says, “we” in this sentence?

    If the “we” in this sentence refers to every single person, then Dr. Snyder is a Universalist.

    If “we” refers to “the elect” or “the predestined,” then Professor Snyder seems to be saying that the elect are saved by God’s gracious provision of salvation for every single person in the world. Really?

    The Bible declares: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Who are “His people” in this verse? It certainly does not refer to every single person in the entire world.

    If the Biblical assertion that God’s will is to save “His people,” is correct, then how can it be that God’s will is that all be saved?

    Therefore, it is not that predestination is second, and love is first. Both predestination (God’s right to predestinate) and love (God’s ability to love) come from God and both carry equal weight.

    John 6:38-40, “38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

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