Reading Matthew Levering on Predestination, and Habets and Grow on the Same

I just picked up a new book to read, and I am very excited to read it! It is by Matthew Levering, and is on the doctrine of Predestination. Here’s the biblio:

Matthew Levering, Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

I have just finished the Introduction chapter, and it makes me want to read it even more! Here is what the summary of the book communicates on the back jacket:

Predestination has been the subject of perennial controversy among Christians, although in recent years theologians have shied away from it as a divisive and unedifying topic. In this book Matthew Levering argues that Christian theological reflection needs to continue to return to the topic of predestination, for two reasons. Firstly, predestination doctrine is taught in the New Testament. Reflecting the importance of the topic in many strands of Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament authors teach predestination in a manner that explains why Christian theologians continually recur to this topic. Secondly, the doctrine of predestination provides a way for Christian theologians to reflect upon two fundamental affirmations of biblical revelation. The first is God’s love, without any deficiency or crimp, for each and every rational creature; the second is that God from eternity brings about the purpose for which he created us, and that he permits some rational creatures freely and permanently to rebel against his love. When theologians reflect on these two key biblical affirmations, they generally try to unite them in a logical synthesis. Instead, Levering argues, it is necessary to allow for the truth of each side of the mystery, without trying to blend the two affirmations into one.

Levering pairs his discussion of Scripture with ecumenically oriented discussion of the doctrine of predestination through the ages using the writings of Origen, Augustine, Boethius, John of Damascus, Eriugena, Aquinas, Ockham, Catherine of Siena, Calvin, Molina, Francis de Sales, Leibniz, Bulgakov, Barth, Maritain, and Balthasar. He concludes with a constructive chapter regarding the future of the doctrine.

Sounds great, right?! Before I even finish reading this book, I am going to recommend it to you 🙂 . Alongside this one, you ought to also read Suzanne McDonald’s excellent book: Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. 

These issues, Predestination and Election continue to represent perennial discussion that seems to never go away; and seems to cause confusion and appeal to mystery like no other doctrine[s]. As Levering notes in his Introduction John Milton depicts this kind of discussion as one that shapes the demonic; note: […] in Paradise Lost, John Milton depicts the demons in hell as conversing ‘of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate, / Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, / And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.’ (Levering, p. 1)

Myk and I don’t take such an negative view of this doctrinal reality; here is what we wrote in our edited book, and in our last chapter which we co-wrote wherein we present 15 theological Theses that we hold. This Thesis, obviously, is the one that seeks to capture what Myk and I think about this doctrine[s]:

Thesis Five. Election is christologically conditioned.

This follows on as a corollary from the thesis above. Christ’s work is perfect and requires no supplement, such as the faith of an individual. In forms of Classical Calvinism the subjective elements of salvation have tended to dominate its theology so that an experimental predestination (syllogismus practicus) developed and faith was separated from assurance in an unhealthy manner as Christ was separated from his work. The resultant crises of faith and assurance threw believers back onto themselves and their own works for assurance, rather than onto Christ our perfect mediator and redeemer. Christ has been sanctified, and in his sanctification he has sanctified the elect in him. Believers find their subjective sanctification in Christ’s objective work, and not the other way round. This reflects the duplex gratiaCalvin made so much about and yet contemporary Reformed theology has tended to separate—through union with Christ flows the twin benefits of justification and sanctification.25

Thomas F. Torrance is instructive as he comments on Scottish Calvinist, John Craig’s approach to articulating what a christologically conditioned doctrine of election looks like; with a carnal and spiritual union providing its orientation:

Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the Church. . . . Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation in the saving benefits or “graces” of Christ rest. John Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as a “carnal union” and a “spiritual union.” By “carnal union” he referred to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we may share in all Christ’s benefits—outside of this union and communion there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of salvation. . . . 26 27

Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit. Christ, in this framework, is known to be the one who elects our humanity for himself; by so doing he takes our reprobation, wherein the “Great Exchange” inheres: “by his poverty we are made rich.”

_______________________

24. Historical antecedents to such an approach in which a doctrine of God correctly shaped their doctrines of Christology and soteriology would include, amongst others, Richard St. Victor and John Duns Scotus. For both, Theology Proper was robustly Trinitarian, thus relational, personal, and pastoral.

25. See further in Johnson, chapter 9.

26. Torrance, Scottish Theology, 52–53.

27. See further in Habets, chapter 7.

-Taken from our book, Evangelical Calvinism, pp. 432-33

As you can see we are articulating our view of election, but this entails how we think of predestination as Christologically conditioned as well. For more depth you would need to read Myk’s personal chapter 7 on his Christologically Conditioned view of Election. We also hold to a Christological conditioned understanding of Supralapsarianism, which is our Thesis number 8. If I had more time I would share that one too, since it overlaps with this whole discussion (maybe another time).

As you can see from what I have shared, Myk and I follow some Scottish lines, some Barthian lines, some Torrancian lines, and hopefully some biblical lines. Our view follows from our commitment to a Depth Dimension hermeneutic which sees Christ, in principled ways, as the touchstone for exegeting all of Scripture’s depth and breadth. Having published a particular perspective on this, as Myk and I have, I look forward to being challenged by Levering in reading his conclusions, and how he gets there. What he writes might very well add depth and layers of nuance to my own perspective, and might even morph mine to one degree or another; one never knows—which is the exciting thing about studying such things, and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ in this way.

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