Reprobation Clarification

Lee Gatiss
There has been some interesting discussion in various places generated by my previous posts on reprobation. That's good. It's hard to talk about, but important to do so. Rather than repeat myself ad nauseum in those discussions, it's probably useful if I here make a number of clarifications about the subject. Here's my starting 11 anyway, of things to reject:

1. I don't think Article 17 of the 39 Articles teaches double predestination in an exhaustive sense. My point is that it does deliberately and explicitly acknowledge the darker side of "the sentence of God's predestination" and teaches us how not to apply and preach that. It doesn't say much more, and those of us who interpret it this way are not claiming it does -- though other parts of the Anglican formularies do say more (as does the Bible). It certainly cannot be said to be silent on the issue or to teach against it. That would be odd, since Article 17 may well have been drafted by Peter Martyr Vermigli, who was a strong double predestinarian (like a good many Anglican Reformers in the sixteenth century).

2. I don't think God is the author of sin. I've never met or read anyone who does. But somehow this charge of blasphemy keeps being thrown out at anyone who even dares mention this subject, as if it were a potent knock-down one-liner. Everyone from Augustine to Ratramnus to whoever always points out that twofold predestination does not mean God compels us to sin or is the author of wickedness.

3. I don't think predestination and reprobation are exact equivalents. There is some asymmetry involved, of course! No one deserves predestination to life, for example, but everyone reprobated receives an impeccably just judgment for their sins. If anyone says they are two sides of the same coin, that wouldn't mean they are exact symmetrical equivalents either -- the two sides of a coin usually have some differences, I think, even if they do come inseparably together.

4. I'm not incapable of understanding nuances and distinctions. Sometimes they are helpful in summarising the witness of scripture. But sometimes, the distinctions human interpreters make are only nominal or semantic. Frequently they have no scriptural justification or warrant and often defy common sense or logic. Which is a problem. Also, sometimes it is possible to make a distinction (such as, between positive and negative reprobation) but without denying either, or thinking that they are actually separable. There are probably other things in theology which we think of as distinct but inseparable, aren't there?

5. I'm not more interested in tradition and church history than the Bible, nor do I give it any authority over God's word. That's why I looked at six or seven Bible references in my first post, even though I was only responding to what I considered a misinterpretation of a 16th century text. If Article 17 taught triple predestination or quadruple predestination or something, I'd consider myself under no obligation to believe it unless I could be satisfied it was biblical first and foremost. Reprobation is so often assumed to be just a "logical deduction." Or an imposition onto Christianity by overly philosophical or emotionless minds. But it's not without biblical justification, whatever unfounded things may be said about the people who hold to it.

6. I am not hoping to encourage Anglicans to sign up to the Westminster Confession.

7. I never mentioned Calvin.

8. I'm not a supralapsarian. Or an Islamic fatalist.

9. I do not find it uninteresting that people who reject the usefulness of systematic theology and logic in favour of a form of atomised sola exegesis fundamentalism are so often the ones who start appealing at this point to some pretty fine distinctions and taxonomies of causation, to avoid any taint of the dreaded "double predestination." Now why is that?

10. It has not gone unnoticed, and is fascinating, that many who want to deny that God has any role in reprobation essentially make predestination and foreknowledge the same thing in this regard. Isn't that what Pelagius does in his Romans commentary? Also, I have always wondered if saying that God's foreknowledge of someone's sins is the cause or motive of his reprobation of them doesn't actually imperil divine simplicity and immutability. I think I may have read this in Ratramnus or Gottschalk or Remigius. But here we go again, getting into that systematic stuff...

11. Finally, I didn't bring this up because I have an axe to grind on the subject. I didn't start it! I was merely responding to what I saw as a misunderstanding of the Thirty-nine Articles propagated by someone else, a misunderstanding I thought I had adequately corrected in a couple of places in my published works. That someone is my friend, incidentally, and we are on very good terms despite not necessarily agreeing on everything. That's healthy isn't it? Though friendships can be strained by sporting events, and at least one antipodean friend has threatened to unfriend me after I might have mentioned somewhere the recent utter collapse of the Australian cricket team... Better stop there then...

Lee Gatiss is not quite done with this theological subject yet...