Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine

On the face of it, it does not seem difficult to state the contradictions that beset a doctrine of predestination. An absolute sense that God determines the outcome of our lives cuts the nerve of moral responsibility. Softening the doctrine to make room for human efforts leads to works righteousness. Adopting universalism—the view that all will be saved—also undermines the motive for moral action.

As easy as it is to state the tensions, the problem is theologically unsolvable. For that reason the church has been in dispute over the doctrine since the time of Augustine, or perhaps since Paul wrote Romans 8:29-30, which is echoed in Ephesians 1:5, 11. The history of the doctrine may leave the reader baffled—and dismayed that attempts to articulate the power of God’s grace have regularly culminated in acrimonious and exclusionary reasoning.

 

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