Predestination vs. free will

By Luke Lancaster


Within Christianity is a subset known as the "reformed" position, and they derive their teachings from the 16th century protestors like Bucer, Bullinger, and Calvin. They claim that man does not have free will, and instead teach that God chose certain people to go to Heaven, and that He chose certain people to go to Hell. This is commonly called “double predestination.”


Both of those two sets of people could not resist the choice that God had previously made from the beginning of time, so they therefore did not have free will. Is this truly the case, though? For Scripture makes clear that God does in fact predestine us, but could that work in harmony with free will? I, many Scripture scholars, and the Catholic Church believe it does, and this is based on God's "foreknowledge."


One Scripture scholar that believes in a union between predestination and free will is Dr. I. Howard Marshall. Marshall was an influential Scripture scholar who counter-acted the arguments used by the "reformed" position in his book, New Testament Theology. He noted that there was a constant both/and theology in Paul’s letters, rather than an either/or dichotomy. Those who believe in a both/and approach, see predestination and free will working together, rather than an either/or predestination vs. free will approach.


For just one example of this "both/and" approach, consider what Paul says about God's protection and yet our continual need to pray for that protection, in his second letter to the Thessalonians. Paul's safety was at stake when he visited Thessalonica in Acts 17, for the people rioted against him and his teachings. But notice how Paul knows that God is faithful and will protect him from his enemies who try to kill him, and yet he still asks the Thessalonians to pray for his protection. Marshall says,


“Again the paradox is present: he [Paul] is confident of the faithfulness and protecting power of God (2 Thess. 3:3), and yet he requests prayer for the progress of the mission and for his own safety (2 Thess. 3:1-2).”


Man and God were acting together. It was not trusting in God's protection vs. praying for their safety, but rather an acknowledgement of both forces playing a role in Paul's protection. A multiplicity of examples like this could be seen, and is seen in regards to predestination and free will.


Consider how the Ephesians are told that they had been "chosen" by God from the beginning of time (Eph. 1:4), yet at the same time are encouraged to freely continue following Christ (Eph. 4:1), for otherwise they could lose their inheritance of the Kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5).


Our salvation is not a set and done deal, already decided upon by God as to where we will spend eternity without any reference to man's free will. God does "choose" or predestine certain people to Heaven, but this is based on their free will in how they stay faithful to God. God can see from the beginning of time who will love and serve Him, and who will despise and disobey Him. This foreknowledge of God includes the notion of free will within it.


God chose those who were going to Heaven based on His foreknowledge of their free will: whether they believed in and followed God. It is not predestination vs. free will, but rather predestination and free will.

© March 19, 2020
St. Peter Institute for Scripture and Evangelization.

1098 Ann Arbor Rd. West PMB 3069,

Plymouth, MI 48170

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