Preaching the Gospel of Predestination

How can the Church recover the preaching of predestination? It seems an impossibility. When treated abstractly, as an explanation of why some are saved and others are not, predestination must always function as an existential threat to our personhood and security. Two questions immediately arise:

  1. Am I a free being or just a puppet?
  2. Am I one of the elect or one of the reprobate?

The first raises the concern about determinism. If God is the transcendent Absolute, the place where the metaphysical buck stops, then he must always be apprehended as a threat to our personal autonomy. He is the Other, the Deity above us who creates all, determines all. All contingencies are encompassed within his providential will. The second generates an all-consuming anxiety regarding our everlasting happiness. Has this God elected us to eternal well-being or eternal ill-being? In either case, the choice and choosing is out of our hands. We are quite literally helpless before the deus absconditus.

The key to finding an evangelical solution is the recogni­tion that in Holy Scripture predestina­tion is good news. It is neither a philo­sophical conundrum to be solved nor a doctrine to be feared but gospel to be pro­claimed. No theologian of the Church has seen this more clearly than Karl Barth:

The truth which must now occupy us, the truth of the doctrine of predestination, is first and last and in all circumstances the sum of the Gospel, no matter how it may be understood in detail, no matter what apparently contradictory aspects or moments it may present to us. It is itself evangel: glad tidings; news which uplifts and comforts and sustains…. The election of grace is the sum of the Gospel—we must put it as pointedly as that. But more, the election of grace is the whole of the Gospel, the Gospel in nuce. It is the very essence of all good news. It is as such that it must be understood and evaluated in the Christian Church. God is God in His being as the One who loves in freedom. This is revealed as a benefit conferred upon us in the fact which corres­ponds to the truth of God’s being, the fact that God elects in His grace, that He moves towards man, in his dealing within this covenant with the one man Jesus, and the people represented by Him. All the joy and the benefit of His whole work as Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, all the blessings which are divine and therefore real blessings, all the promise of the Gospel which has been declared: all these are grounded and determined in the fact that God is the God of the eternal election of His grace. In the light of this election the whole of the Gospel is light. Yes is said here, and all the promises of God are Yea and Amen (2 Cor 1:20). (Church Dogmatics, II/2: 12-14)

Predestination intends Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God and second person of the Holy Trinity, the Messiah of Israel and the mediator and embodiment of the world’s salvation. Because predestination intends Jesus, it intends Israel, elected by God to receive in her flesh the Savior of the world. Because predestination intends Jesus, it intends the Blessed Virgin Mary, chosen by God to conceive, birth, nurture and protect the Messiah of her people. Because predestination intends Jesus, it intends his body, the Church, the new Israel and elect company of the twice-born. And because predestination simultaneously intends Jesus, Israel, Mary, and the Church, it also intends the individual believer in Christ, who has been baptized into the death and resurrection of the Lord, incorporated into the eschatological community, and made an heir of the kingdom. The gospel of election proclaims to the baptized that through their sacramental incorporation into the incarnate Son of God, they participate in the divine Sonship and are destined to be with Christ in his kingdom. Jesus is the elect One of God. United to him we share in his divine election. To be in the Church is to be in Christ; to be in Christ is to be in God; and to be in God is to enjoy eternal salvation in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the words of James Daane:

Jesus is the Christ because of his election. If the believer bears—in the profound, biblical sense—the name of Christ by bearing the name of Christian, he does so because he shares in the election of Christ. The idea that we share or participate in Christ is characteristic of the Christian religion. We share in Christ’s death, his resurrection, his Spirit, his ascension, his return, his judgment of the world, his threefold task as prophet, priest, and king, his suffering, his kingdom, power, and glory. And we share in his election. That we do so is only another expression for the fact that election in biblical thought is never a purely individual matter. The election of the believer, as that of Israel and the church, is an involvement in the divine election of Jesus. (The Freedom of God, pp. 198)

But what of the reprobate? The Calvinist temptation (and St Augustine nearly succumbed to it and perhaps arguably did) has been to explain human rejection of the gospel in terms of God’s eternal decrees. The logic appears inescapable: if salvation is by election and grace alone, and if some reject Christ to their damnation, this would seem to imply that God unilaterally reprobates the non-elect. But the gospel disallows the conclusion. The election of Christ Jesus is the reason why some are saved; but it is not the reason why some are not. Daane elaborates:

Nothing in the Bible suggests that God created the world to save some men and damn others. Nothing in the Bible suggests that God elected Israel in order to damn all Gentile nations. Nothing in the Bible suggests that God sent Christ into the world both to save and damn. On this matter the Apostle is unequivocal: “God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (p. 201)

Even so, we are left with the question how to preach election in Christ. Does it even make a difference if we do not preach it, if we avoid the predestinarian language altogether? Barth and Daane have given us abstractions, beautiful abstractions but abstractions and general­izations nonetheless. I applaud the evangelical affirmation that election occurs in the crucified and risen God-Man, intending the salvation of every human being. Yet this truth—precisely because it is an abstract, third-person truth—neither silences the condemning voices that come to us in the night nor liberates for a new future in the Spirit. Am I truly in Christ? Am I genunely intended by God’s electing grace? My sins are great, my faith and repentance too weak, my ascetical and moral efforts so manifestly half-hearted, my prayers ineffectual. What good is a corrected, improved doctrine of predestination to me? I still feel God’s wrath. The troubling problem of assurance remains. What more must I do to be saved at the final judgment? In the end does the gospel just throw us back upon ourselves to save ourselves?

And so I turn towards the East. Perhaps I will find help in our Fathers. In his book Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, Joseph Farrell asks, “Why does the West seem constantly plagued by recurring controver­sies over predestination and free will?” (p. 199). It’s not that the East was not also plagued by such controver­sies, as the centuries-long Eastern debates about the apokatastasis witness; but these debates appear to have disappeared after the resolu­tion of the monothe­lite crisis. Farrell proposes multiple reasons for the West’s continuing struggle with predestination, many of which are highly speculative; but his most plausible candidate is the failure to properly distinguish between person and nature. Farrell cites St Augustine’s exegesis of John 6:39 as an example: “This is the will of the Father who hath sent me, that of all that he hath given me I shall lose nothing.” Who are the “all”? According to St Augustine, the “all” refers to the totality of those “predestinated to the kingdom of God, whose number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken away from them” (On Rebuke and Grace): in other words, predesti­nation pertains to individual persons. Maximus, on the other hand, interprets “all” as referring to the human nature assumed by Christ in the Incarnation. Farrell states the contrast:

Rather than interpreting the “all” in a “Maximian” manner as referring to the single human nature of Christ, that is, rather than interpreting it christolog­ically, in reference to Christ, St. Augustine interprets it predestinationally, in reference to his general doctrine of predestination. Christological considera­tions have been subordinated to an overarching structure of predestination. (p. 207)

Because human nature has been resurrected in Christ, all human beings will share in the resurrection, either to their salvation or damnation, depending on their free personal decisions. Predestination thus refers to the future state of embodied life, guaranteed to every human being by the paschal victory; it does not refer to the choices each individual must make in relationship to his Creator. Or to put the matter differently: grace as resurrection is irresistible; grace as enhypostasization of eternal beatitude, resistible. Farrell explains:

Christ produces the permanence of everlasting being for all of human nature, but only “as each human hypostasis” wills. To put this point in more “Calvinistic” terms makes its implications quite clear: the resurrection is the one, universal, irreformable and ineluctable fact of all human destinies, admitting of no exceptions. However, the type or state of that resurrection, that is to say, Ever-Ill or Ever-Well Being depends upon the person. One might go so far as to say that the irresistible will of God to save all men is viewed as being fulfilled by Christ in His resurrection of all human nature to everlasting being. The “all” of St. John 6:39 would thus be taken as referring to Christ’s humanity, that is, to His human nature, and not to a predestined number of human persons. It is this humanity in its fullness and perfection in Christ which is raised, and nothing is lost to it if some person wills not to be saved. Nothing has been denied to God’s sovereignty because nothing is lacking to Christ’s humanity, and yet nothing has been denied to personal human liberty either. (p. 217)

The Sixth Ecumenical Council tells us that the human nature assumed by the eternal Son included the faculty of volition—Christ has both a divine will and a human will. But if the human will has been redeemed and healed, and if Christ, in both his divine and human natures, wills the salvation of all humanity, and if all human beings are united to Christ in their ontological depths, then apokatastasis would seem to be an inevitability. Maximus solves this problem, argues Farrell, by positing two human wills: “the will as a property of nature” and the will as “property as the person,” i.e., “the equally real mode of using and employing the will” (p. 218). The natural will always chooses the good; evil choices, however, belong to the personal or hypostatic will. This distinction between nature and person, i.e., between the will as property and the personal exercise of the will, allows Maximus to assert both the regeneration of human nature in Christ and the freedom of the individual to align or disalign his will with the will of the risen Savior. Through and in the incarnate Son, the created human hypostasis enjoys the liberty to decide for heaven or hell.

Maximus advances an interesting piece of speculation, but his distinction between the natural and hypostatic wills leaves sinners in the same place as with Barth and Daane, perhaps even worse. Human nature is predestined to glory, yet the choice to participate in this glory, and thus secure election in Christ, ultimately rests on our shoulders. We are the makers of our final destiny. Following Maximus, what can the preacher say to us but believe, repent, make a regular confession, receive the Eucharist, pray and work harder?  He or she will no doubt assure us of the synergistic assistance of the Holy Spirit, but the responsibility and burden remains. The pseudonymous Apostle exhorts: “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10)—but the words do not dispel the terror and despair. My will is bound by passions and ego. Speak not to me of the predestination of human nature to glory. I am a sinner and I need good news.

The good news of predestination can only be recovered if we make the move from third-person abstraction to first- and second-person proclamation, from theology to kerygma. And here the Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde comes to our aid. Forde begins with the premise that all human beings live under the existential burden of wrath and alienation. Our wills are bound. No theory is needed to explain this condi­tion. It is just the the way of things, the way things really are. We are trapped within ourselves. “Scripture,“ Martin Luther tells us, “describes man as so curved in upon himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself” (LW 25: 345). Incurvatus in se, humanity curved in upon itself, is the phrase he com­monly uses to describe our situation. We cannot by our own efforts liberate ourselves from our bondage, because this is who we are in the devastation, who we have made ourselves to be. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, it is always the alienated ego who is trying and doing. Our vision is distorted, our desires corrupted, our self-righteousness determinative.

Given this inherited condition, this original sin and sinfulness, the abstract Deity taught by theologians and philosophers will always be heard as a threat to our autonomy. He is the transcendent, infinite, immutable, ineffable Other who stands outside us and above us. Forde describes this God as the unpreached God, majestic in his glory and fearsome in his commands and predestinations:

Thus God apart from proclamation is a rather intractable problem for us. We neither get along very well with God, nor without God. We are at best ambi­valent about God. On the one hand, we like the idea of an eternal “anchor” to things, or an eternal goal that is also the source and guarantor of all the things we seek: eternal truth, goodness, beauty, and so on. On the other hand, God is a threat to us: the ruler, the judge, the almighty One who has the final say. We are caught between seeking and fleeing God’s presence…. Our thinking does not exactly help us, at least not in a direct positive sense. The problem is that when we think “God” we come up against an awesome string of sheer abstractions, what Luther meant, perhaps, by the “naked God in his majesty” (deus nudus in sua maiestate), the “bare idea” of God. God is absolute, immortal, infinite, timeless, passionless (apathos), omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient; God is the eternal ruler, judge, and disposer of all things, by whose power and will all things come to be and not to be. God is, by definition, God. (Theology is for Proclamation, pp. 14-15)

“We are not saved by our theology,” Robert W. Jenson once told me. What does the theo­logian offer us but abstractions and doctrines and stories about the Absolute, communi­cated to us in the mode of third-person discourse. Precisely as language about God, it cannot liberate nor bestow new life. No doubt it can be instructive, insightful, illuminating, yet is not the Word that raises the dead. “Lazarus, come forth!” What is needed is primary speech in which God is the speaker. Forde invites us to consider the language used by lovers:

Imagine the lover and the beloved at a critical moment in which the primary language is to be spoken. “Do you love me?” asks the lover. And the beloved answers, “Well, that is an interesting question. What is love after all?” And so launches into a discussion about the essence of love. After patient waiting, the lover finally gets another chance. “Yes, that’s all interesting, but do you love me?” Then the beloved takes another diversionary tack and say, “Well, yes, of course. You see, I love everybody!” (A universalist!) The lover protests, “That’s not what I mean! You haven’t answered the question! Do you love me?” So it goes. In spite of all the helpful things it does, secondary discourse makes the would-be lover look ridiculous when substuted for primary discourse.

There is only one type of discourse that will do the job in the case of lovers: primary discourse, the proclamation, the self-disclosure in the present tense, first-to-second-person address, the “I love you,” and the subsequent confession, “I love you too!” What happens in the church’s proclamation is often similar; secondary discourse gets substituted for primary and so proclamation never occurs. (p. 3)

Theological abstractions cannot deliver us from our bondage to self, for we will always twist them to defend the autonomy of our false selves. What is needed, declares Forde, is the predestinating God who speaks directly to sinners and elects them—now, today, in the present—to salvation in Jesus Christ. Election occurs not in the hidden heights of eternity but in the gospel declared by the preacher:

The crucial question is not the whether or why of it, but the who. The preacher must claim the audacious and unheard-of authority to say who is intended, to actually speak for God. The answer, to anticipate, is always you: “You, now that you are here within earshot.” This is the place of the preacher. There is only one question about predestination we can answer with any authority, and it the only one that matters: Who?

The preacher acts on the presupposition that only the present-tense, here-and-now deed of God, the proclamation itself, can be the solution to the problem of God. The proclamation is the end result, the culmination, of the great acts of God in history. The preacher ought to have the consciousness of standing in that place knowing that the Word and sacrament are themselves the end (telos), the purpose of it all. The concrete moment of the proclamation is the doing of the mighty act of God in the living present. It is not a recital of past acts, but the doing of the act itself now. Only when there is an authori­tative Word from God in the present tense do we escape the threat of the hidden God. Only then can a faith be created to stand in the face of that threat. As Paul wrote, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), “for … it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). (pp. 35-36)

Only the unconditional announcement, spoken to us in the Name of the crucified and risen Christ, can pierce our alienation and liberate us for faith. The preacher must take to his lips the language of Scripture and declare to each member of his congregation the good news of predestination: “You belong to the elect people of God. You have been chosen for eternal salvation. In Christ you are justified; in Christ you are and will be sanctified; in Christ you are and will be glorified. By the love of the Crucified you are predestined to the kingdom of everlasting life. Believe and rejoice!”

Every parish, every believer, needs to hear such bold preaching delivered in the name of Jesus Christ.

(12 November 2014; rev.)

(Return to first article)

 

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52 Responses to Preaching the Gospel of Predestination

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Sorry, but this is arrant nonsense. It is a sheer hypocritical pretense that in their frankly disgusting system the reprobate either don’t exist or don’t matter because they are eternally “not me or my mates”, and one can joyfully proclaim that everyone else is going to hell. Predestination can never, ever be good news, even for the elect, unless the elect are unremittingly selfish, evil and sadistic. It can never be preached as “you are saved” only ever “you are *one of* the saved” – it is meaningless without the corollary damnation to all eternity of everyone else.
    The inherent problem is that by “saved” it can only mean “saved from the torment God is going to inflict on everyone else”. By not requiring any active participation by the person “saved” the only thing it can save that person from is some *external* threat, not their own internal nature (which they would have to be involved in changing) and God himself, being the ground of being etc himself is the only identifiable external thing from which they can be saved. Even if one includes within it a bonus treat for the elect of some restoration or salvation of their inner nature as well, this is a quite separate piece of news from election / predestination itself.
    Predestination itself is only “good news” in the sense that the elect are to be arbitrarily spared by a sadist from otherwise universal torture: it is essentially a mitigation into slightly less bad news for a few select people of really appallingly bad news. The doctrine is unsalvageable however you try and doll it up.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Iain, did you actually read my article? Methinks you are importing a Calvinist double predestinarianism into the piece. Reread the entire series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I did read the article, and have now re-read it. It’s meaning seems to depend entirely on what “predestination” is intended to mean, which it simply doesn’t say. It does assume that there is a “who” of predestination, but asserts preachers should simply proclaim to their congregation that they are of the fortunate band of the predestined elect.
        Re-reading it, is it rather intended to advocate preachers preaching in effect a doctrine of universal election without actually expressly saying so? Sort of apokatastasis by stealth? That would explain the “audacity” of preaching that all hearers are predestined for salvation (indeed surely it would otherwise be a lie?). The trouble with that would be, though, that it is less proclaiming the good news and more using constructive ambiguity to conceal it.
        The article says it is not the “what”, but the “who”, but I can’t see how that is the case. There’s no point that I can see in telling people they are “predestined” if you don’t tell them what they are predestined *for*.
        If what you mean is they are predestined for limited election then for the reasons above I can’t see how this is salvageable as good news at all, however you spin it.
        If what you mean is they are predestined for union in Christ in God with the whole rest of creation in the apokatastasis, then that is very preachable good news, as it would be if what was meant was what I am reasonably convinced is what Paul actually meant by “predestination”: that they are each predestined through the foreknowledge of God to play their own part in God’s salvific plan for the world. What the article seems to want to do, though, if I now understand it right, is to have its cake and eat it, to preach a completely different predestination to the Calvinist / Augustinian version without admitting doing so, or telling those being preached to that that is what is meant. If this is the case, this seems wholly disingenuous to me.

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  2. johnnsw says:

    I think it’s better to avoid the use of the word as much as possible. Augustine in his ignorance of Greek was shut in to a misleading Latin word, with terrible results for the theology of Western Christianity.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, I can tell you what Forde would say in reply: predestinarian language in preaching is necessary to help the sinner to experience his or her own sinful attachment to autonomy. Not everyone one wants to hear “Bob, God has predestined you to eternal salvation.” Immediately the response comes: “But I get to choose, right?”

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Sidenote: my presentation of Maximus relies totally on Joseph Farrell’s Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor. I do not know if Farrell has gotten Maximus right. At the time that the original incarnation of this article was written (way back in 2006) Farrell’s book was quite popular, especially among the Orthodox. A lot of scholarship has been written since then. Perhaps someone who knows the theology of Maximus well can confirm or disconfirm Farrell’s reading of Maximus.

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    • William says:

      This isn’t so much about Farrell’s reading of Maximus, because I haven’t read his book, but I don’t think reference to the distinction between natural and hypostatic wills says enough about Maximus’ approach. If it did, then it might be true that for him “the choice to participate in this glory, and thus secure election in Christ, ultimately rests on our shoulders.” However, Maximus’ double concept of providence-judgment shows us that he didn’t hold a position that our hypostatic, deliberative choice is simply operating on its own in a world of random circumstance. I’m not able to provide citations right now (but in any case the concept is scattered everywhere in his writings, just like some of his other distinctive pairs). But essentially, for Maximus God’s providence and judgment hold all things together and it is through them that the mystery of our salvation comes about. They are connected with the Holy Spirit and demonstrated in Christ for our sake in the Incarnation (providence) and the Passion (judgment). For Maximus, they direct and chasten human choices, so I guess one might be tempted to say that it’s just a case of the Holy Spirit “helping” choice, but for Maximus providence and judgment timelessly operate in principles and modes in and beyond the full temporal spectrum of human life to bring about the intention God has for his creatures, which is that they be conformed to the image of his Son (which is what Paul in Romans 8 says is the aim of predestination).

      My explanation here is very inadequate, but I think notions of choice in Maximus can’t be divorced from this concept.

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  4. John H says:

    Father, when you affirm in the article that Maximus’s view implies apokatastasis, that is a point that Farrell fails to address. If each human being is united with Christ in their ontological depths and Christ has healed human nature, including the human will, than how can a gnomic will persist into the eschton. Or, to put the matter another way, if human nature is completely restored in Christ at the resurrection, than our intellects will have a clear vision of God as ultimate Truth and Goodness But, to paraphrase Hart, to see the Good is to necessarily desire it with all of one’s being. So how does it make sense to maintain that the gnomic will may persist under such circumstances?

    I also believe that other readers may have misunderstood the argument that you were making in this post. When you maintain that predestination may be preached to each person, I interpret that as a universal predestination to salvation. So there are simply no reprobates. Meaning that you may preach predestination to salvation to everyone without exception, including atheists and those who do not accept Christ at this point in their lives. Therefore preaching predestination is equivalent to preaching apokatastasis. Am I reading this correctly?

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I am definitely one of the readers who misunderstood. I maintain, however, that if you are going to preach predestination as apokatastasis, you really ought to be crystal clear about the issue, rather than fudge it, otherwise people who are like me somewhat slow on the uptake are inevitably going to misunderstand.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yes, John, you are reading the article correctly. I was trying to stay as close to Forde as I could, as I wanted to avoid making him out as a univeralist, which he wasn’t. BUT he did believe that when the gospel is proclaimed (as opposed to just written about), it must be proclaimed to the hearers (all the hearers and every hearer) in an unconditional mode. This is the difference between talking about love and saying to a person “I love you.” Similarly, there is a difference between saying “In Christ humanity is elected to eternal salvation” and saying “In Jesus Christ, you are predestined to eternal salvation.” For Forde (as for Robert Jenson), predestination is simply the flip-side of justification by faith. “You are predestined to eternal salvation in Jesus Christ” = “You are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.”

      Now consider this passage from Theology is for Proclamation:

      The two most prevalent attempts to reach a solution must be rejected. The first is universalism: the idea that we can defuse the dynamite of election and predestination by saying that God “elects” everyone. Quite apart from the fact that the Scriptures give us no particular warrant for asserting this, the idea does no real good at all. It substitutes an abstract idea about God for a concrete self-disclosure of the divine will, leaving the hearers under wrath. The error is not in the hope it expresses. It is certainly more legitimate and gracious than a so-called evangelical theology that insists hell must be populated to complete the divine plan. The error of universalism is that it simply cuts off the more to proclamation. As a result, the God who supposedly loves and elects everyone never gets around to saying it to anyone. The opinion of the “universalist” is no better than that of the double predestinationist who likewise subverts the proclamation of the abstract notion that the election of some to heaven and others to hell has been determined before all time. Ideas of universalism do not save anyone. Even the slightest hint in the Scriptures of the possibility of a different outcome is enough to shatter one’s confidence in such ideas.

      The argument about universalism is usually wrongly stated and takes differnt shape when one thinks in terms of proclamation. The scriptures do indeed contain statements which appear universalist. The like the “I desire not the death of the sinner” discussed above they are misused if taken as abstract general statements or ideas about God. If one interprets scripture in that fashion, one will then have to find some way to cope with other statements as well that seem to indicate different ideas about God–the possibility, for instance, of being cast into the “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The point is that ideas afford no real comfort when one’s ultimate destiny is at stake. Searching for a “general consensus” in scripture or counting passages for or against an idea is no protection for the “conscience.” One is not saved by scriptural consensus. The smallest hint or just one passage is enough to shatter confidence and to raise the specter of being lost. (pp. 33-34).

      Forde’s concern here is existential through and through. Theology is not substitute for the right speaking of the gospel. In and of itself, theology–even a theology of universalism!–leaves us in our sin and egoism. Only the proclaimed gospel can break through my defenses and generate a new self.

      I know that not everyone can get into Luther, but Luther, as mediated by Jenson and Forde, was very important to me in the first decade or so of my ministry. There is an existential dynamism about him. I also recommend Forde’s little book Justification by Faith.

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        If Forde was not a universalist, how does his idea of proclaiming predestined salvation work if someone says to him “How do you know I am saved”? Or “is my friend / brother / wife saved?” To preach salvation the preacher must first know that those to whom he preaches are indeed saved, or he is basically deliberately lying.
        I get that preaching universalism is not an assurance if you cannot be assured it is true, but surely proclaiming to all and sundry that they personally are saved is even less of an assurance if you regard it not just as uncertain, but actively in at least some cases false?
        Forde’s difficulty is that while he is obviously right that the way the gospel ought to be preached is to proclaim the salvation of the hearers, he doesn’t seem to be able to explain how the preacher is supposed to have the conviction that the hearers are all saved. The only thing I can think of is that he believes it is all pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps: if the hearer believes the proclamation that he is saved, then he is saved, if not, not, and God predestines the belief – it doesn’t matter that those who are told they are saved and do not believe it have been told wrong, because they never believed what they were told anyway: is that, or something like it, the idea, or what?

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        • Adam Morton says:

          It isn’t that Forde thinks the preacher somehow knows ahead of time that a particular person is saved. He sees the preaching itself as the electing, justifying word. God elects by sending a preacher.

          Likewise, Forde doesn’t believe in any bootstraps at all. Rather, he believes that faith is produced precisely by the Spirit acting through this unconditional word. The new creature, who lives by faith (and so outside of herself, in this electing word) cannot but believe. The old creature never believes – but the promise isn’t for the old creature. So neither is there any waiting around wondering whether the hearers believe, or whether my friend/brother/wife is saved. The only answer to that particular problem is for the preacher to preach. All else is speculation (which is precisely his problem with universalism).

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Exactly! You said it much better than I could have. I should have recruited you to write the article, Adam.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            Now I get it, and it makes sense – it is the Word itself that saves, simply by being preached. “You are saved” is performative rather than descriptive (if I have got these terms right). I am still not sure this is “preaching predestination” as such, more a way of reconciling the use of unequivocal proclamation language (“You *are* saved”) with a theology that insists some are not in fact saved and never will or can be. If you preach the actual doctrine of predestination (or, as Force points out, universalism) you are back to descriptive preaching again. Forde is to an extent advocating solving the problem by not talking about it at all.

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          • Adam Morton says:

            Fr. Aidan – thanks!

            Iain – Yes. Predestination, spoken of in the abstract, is true, and it may well be necessary from time to time to say that it is true – but it’s nothing but a problem for us. That God predestines is, in itself, rather terrifying. As Forde would put it, this is dealing with God not-preached. The only way out is for God to become preached – for the abstraction of predestination (God chooses) to become the concrete of the Gospel (in Christ, God has chosen you).

            Now, this is not a theology that insists some are in fact not saved and never can be. That too would be speculation. Forde was always insistent that the preacher’s distinctive task is not so much to talk about God (and therefore, about various doctrines), but for God – to give voice to concrete divine judgments and promises. This is what he terms (following Jenson) “first-order theology”, as opposed to the “second-order theology” which is description and commentary on the first order, and happens to be most of what we think about when we say “theology” (or for that matter, preaching).

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  5. Robert Fortuin says:

    I find the idea of predestination misleading due to its deterministic connotations. I don’t see how it is compatible with a transcendental teleology.

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  6. The Reformed Christian in me read this with a smile. I’ll have more to say when I am not so dog-tired.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John H says:

    I agree that an abstract theological concept that all are saved does not amount to a personal existential conviction that such is the case. I wonder what Forde would make of Hart’s bold assertion that Christianity necessarily implies the apokatastasis; unless one accepts that God shall ultimately save all souls, the Christian gospel loses all meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Interesting question to which I do not know the answer. Forde clearly had universalist sympathies, even if he did not believe that the Scriptures authorized its affirmation as a general theological principle.

      I’ve been ruminating on the “offense of universalism” along Forde-like lines. If Forde were a universalist, he would probably preach it something like “Christ is going to save you, whether you like it or not!” (Recall Hart’s remark in his book: “We are doomed to happiness.”) Instead of trying to placate the concern about freedom Forde attacks our self-will head on, recognizing that the reason we are so obsessive about freedom is because we are still trying to preserve our sinful autonomy. It’s the old man who is worried about free will, and it is this old man that must be put to death by the prophetic announcement of our predestination in Christ: “You are predestined to eternal salvation! Deal with it!” Forde is a preacher at heart, and so he is going to look for every opportunity to offend in order to bring his hearers to faith in Christ.

      In his little book on justification, he addresses the question that is often asked, “What must I do to be saved?” His Lutheran answer: absolutely nothing! Think about all the questions such a declaration would raise, but it cuts right through all the theological bullshit and hits us right between the eyes. At this point, only two responses are left open to us: offense or surrender.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        The offense though takes the form of incredulity – this mirrors the (most common) objection universalist receive – it has to be demonstrated how universalism (or predestination in this context) does not mean a forced surrender. I object to the Lutheran that nothing has to be done to be saved. This is at best, and one must stretch hard and far, a misleading half truth.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Robert, think about it this way: When a person (in today’s context) asks “Why must I do to be saved?” what is he really saying? Forde and Jenson believe that the person is really asking “What are the conditions I must fulfill for God to love and forgive me?” If that is the question, then what is the best answer we can give? The “Nothing!” immediately attacks the presupposed condtionalism of the divine love. Salvation is not a transaction. There are no quid pro quos to be fulfilled. God’s love is absolute and unconditional. This truth must be recognized and embraced before we can have a meaningful conversation about becoming the kind of people who are fit for heaven, i.e., who can enjoy the beatific vision.

          Liked by 2 people

          • William says:

            If that very minimal understanding of salvation were combined with a universalism that believes in a purgative hell, the “Nothing!” would begin to sound like a glib invitation to enjoy some uncomfortable period of time unnecessarily basking in the scorching fires of God’s love. Don’t worry about it, you can “do the time,” as DBH put it.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Sure, William, of course. We sinners will do everything we can to avoid death and resurrection. It’s analogous to the “Let us sin even more so that grace may abound” that was thrown at St Paul. The old me will always fight to remain in my sin. And if this sounds too Lutheran, take a look at Christos Yannaras.

            But the last thing universalists should do is to de-unconditionlize the love of God. What kind of gospel would that be? That simply shifts our moralism to an eschatological level. Moralism cannot save us. We must be born anew. Our God is a consuming fire, and he will not be satisfied with anything less than new creation.

            Universalism is—and should be—scandalous not just because it abolishes eternal damnation, but because it decisively asserts the sola gratia: God will be all in all! God will judge and eradicate evil (and indeed has done so on the cross). God will make us into new persons in Jesus Christ. He will turn our hearts to him. He will give us a new freedom in the Spirit. He will make us a new creation.

            I’m out of practice when it comes to preaching, but it is this good news that must be proclaimed. The good news is not that we will have “more” time after death to repent and save ourselves. If that is all that were needed, then the death and resurrection of Christ would hardly have been necessary. Christ died on the cross to put us to death and make us into persons who freely love God with all of our hearts and minds and souls.

            I am finding this discussion particularly helpful because it reminds me why I have not needed a metaphysical explanation how God will accomplish apokatastasis in order to confess it. I certainly welcome Hart’s speculations on the irresistibility of the Good, but for me personally, my apprehension of the triumphant Love of God drives everything. God did not ask my permission to create me, nor did he ask my permission to become incarnate, die on a cross, and rise from the dead. The whole issue of human freedom, upon which we always get stuck, is a non-issue because apart from rebirth in the Spirit, apart from death and resurrection, I will never be a person who wants salvation on God’s terms. The old world must pass away. Let the new come!

            Liked by 2 people

          • I am seriously beginning to wonder if Robert Capon isn’t posthumously writing Fr. Kimel’s responses here.

            Liked by 1 person

          • William says:

            No doubt my comment itself was fairly glib and certainly beside the point that you’re driving at, so in that sense I should have refrained from making it. But I suppose what spurred me to make it was my objection to equating salvation with forgiveness or justification, or really anything short of utter wholeness and participation in divine life. And of course for a person to know that God’s love for him or her is absolutely unconditional no matter what he or she does or doesn’t do is very good news and can communicate that in the end one is saved. And certainly that good news provides some kind of firm footing from which a person can respond in thanksgiving and do something with some freedom from terror. But I suspect that the question “What must I do to be saved?” is not just “What must I do to eventually get to heaven in the end?” but also “What must I do to share in (or welcome) divine life right now?” (even if the person asking wouldn’t put it in those terms).

            If anything in my comment seems to indicate support from me for any notion that we are saved by our repentance either in this life or in some “extra time” after death, apart from the death and resurrection of Christ, that wasn’t my intent. It is certainly Christ who will “make us into persons who freely love God with all our hearts and minds and souls,” and it it certainly Christ who “will give us a new freedom in the Spirit.” though putting those words “freely love” and “freedom in the Spirit” in there does seem to mean that synergy is a real part of it — not at all in the “what” of salvation, but in the “how” of salvation.

            All that said, your last paragraph, “I am finding this discussion particularly helpful …” is very powerful, and it’s also why I know that my comments right now are beside the point.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I would go on to suggest that most of the opposition to universalism lies in a deep-rooted belief in the conditionalism of the divine love. Because the damned have not fulfilled the just conditions of salvation (whatever they are), they are justly excluded from the kingdom.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            The objection I had in mind is the one about how God can save from hell (not just love) someone against their will.

            Hey, maybe there’s a section in Heaven, I can see the sign above its entrance: “Reserved for Conscientious Objectors.” Some say it is locked from the inside…..

            I have now called hell under a different name. 🙂

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          • GeorgeD says:

            I would disagree with the notion of conditionalism of the divine love. Instead, Christ preaching “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” is a proclamation of the divine love, and what we need to do/act (or respond on hearing) to receive the divine love. Once we repent God’s love is unconditional. I try to imagine how my wife would be in love if she did not respond to my declaration of my love for her (it does not make sense to think of conditionality in these terms),

            The addition of eternal suffering of the damned adds an emotive aspect to universalism.

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          • Grant says:

            Most Christians have yet to grasp God’s forgiveness much at all, and have always put a ‘but you need to do X or Y…’ and of course have an unspoken idea some people are always excluded (whatever group of people these are). We are twisted to exclude and judge, and enforcing a moralism that is opposed to the Gospel of unconditioned love and liberation from death and son’s hold.

            As At Issac says our ideas of justice have nothing to do with how God deals with us (and often little related to Him either).

            If only more gained a vision of God’s forgiveness driven by unconditioned love (and it’s absolute commitment to each and everyone of us, all spiritual beings and all creation) Christians would be a force of fearless love to be reckoned with, but as ever fear holds us captive and distorts our vision of all things, God, ourselves and others.

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          • Maximus says:

            Fr Adian, I completely agree about God’s unconditional love for all. This is why I hold that predestination/election is conditional, based on God’s foreknowledge. Would you, however, agree that there is a distinction to be made between God’s love and forgiveness? While the former is clearly unconditional for sinners, Scripture repeatedly seems to make divine forgiveness conditional upon our repentance and the fruits thereof (e.g. our willingness to forgive those who sin against us). While God, in His infinite love, may be *ready* to forgive all, doesn’t it seem like Scripture puts certain conditions on the remission of our sins?

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          • Maximus says:

            Forgive my fat fingers, Fr *Aidan.* 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Grant, I appreciate the sentiment, but it seems the reason why “most Christians have yet to grasp God’s forgiveness” as you describe it is most likely because there are Bible verses which teach God’s forgiveness as conditional on a person’s actions. One obvious example: “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15). I’m not sure how one “gets around” such a clear statement. I’ve heard the basic Protestant explanations and remain unconvinced. Doesn’t this passage seem to clearly teach divine forgiveness as contingent upon human action?

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          • Maximus says:

            Grant, forgive me. I took your comment as a response to mine. I now see you commented before I did. However, I’d still like to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Maximus, regarding repentance (and other actions) as conditions of forgiveness, take a look at this piece I wrote a few years ago and tell me what you think: The Unfathomable Mystery of Divine Forgiveness.

            Liked by 1 person

          • William says:

            There are abounding instances of “you need to do x and y” both in the New Testament and in spiritual writers like Isaac the Syrian. However, I suppose one might say it’s less of a “but, you need to do x and y” and more of a “therefore, you need to do x and y.” It has to do with cooperating with the life of God such that the divine life may be actualized in one’s own life right now (as opposed to “ultimately”), being transformed (or at least open to transformation) as much as possible without the resistance and hinderances of your own self-love and the buildup of crap in our lives and souls that we store up for God to burn away “eventually.” We are invited to participate with this life now, not purely passively. God may have, for his part, forgiven me long before I’ve repented of anything, but until I repent, I’m not much good for enjoying the fruits of that forgiveness (and probably much in need of his chastening hand). It’s one thing to talk about the ultimate good purpose of God for us that he will certainly bring about (thank God!). It’s another thing to talk about how I might stop “quenching the Spirit” in the way I live my life today, right now.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          On salvation, I have heard the analogy of a person clinging to a life raft after a shipwreck. If they see a boat on the horizon heading towards them they can legitimately say “I am saved” at this point, even though, objectively, nothing has changed – they are still stuck in the middle of the ocean clinging to a life raft exactly as they were before. We say the same of the world, that it is (already) saved by the death and resurrection of Christ even though it is still patently actually in a heck of a mess. Once the Word has reached you, you are indeed saved, and without having to have done anything yourself, but there is still a fair amount that God is going to take you through doing before you are actually on the rescue ship safe and dry and warm and having your cup of tea and a hot meal.

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        • I have precisely the opposite reaction. For 30 years my Christian life meant being harangued from the pulpit and in the confessional about how much I was letting God down and all the things I had to do to get him to like me —fast more, pray more, go to confession more, do this don’t do that and just maybe God will come around to liking you.

          Then I happened upon the announcement that, in fact, I don’t actually have to do a single goddamned thing to get into God’s graces, that I have actually been there the whole time and never anywhere else but in the arms of my Heavenly Father – that I was saved by God in Christ on the Cross and the empty tomb and there’s nothing I can do to add to or undo the saving work of Christ —– completely changed my life. I never really understood repentance until I believed, really truly believed, that I was forgiven whether I repented or not. The message that there is, in fact, nothing that can be done because God has done it all for us is, to my mind and heart, the only Gospel worth preaching.

          “You have been justified. You have been enlightened. You have been sanctified. You have
          been washed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God. You have
          been baptized. You have been enlightened.You have been anointed with chrism. You
          have been sanctified. You have been washed clean. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Deal with it!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I just found your comment in the spam queue. Sorry for the two day delay.

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          • sybrandmac says:

            Even your comment was predestined to resurrect from the dead after two days!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            and he didn’t have to do anything!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Half-elf Bard, I’m sorry to hear about the abuse you experienced. From what you describe, that teaching sounds deadly, like pharisaical legalism, a terrible burden for the soul. Sorry about that, esp because I’m familiar with the reality of the situation. With that said, just a brief comment on your statement, “nothing can be done because God has done it all for us.”

            I think a good distinction to make is between God’s love *for* us and God’s love *in* us. By His stripes we are healed—yes and amen. I believe that Christ loves all men equally and has salved the wounds of all human nature in Himself. But I ponder those strange times in the Gospel when Jesus wasn’t able to perform miracles of healing because of people’s unbelief. He had great love for them, but His transforming love wasn’t in them.

            Can we prohibit God’s healing work in our lives? It seems we can. The Physician has indeed cured all ailments—in principle, in Himself. But wouldn’t you agree that this medicine cannot be applied to us without our (mustard-seed!) faith? “Go, your faith has made you well.” He’s eager to apply the cure, but it seems He can’t without our cooperative reception. Christ knocks on the door, but we must welcome Him in.

            Please know this isn’t meant as an attack. Do you find this distinction, between God’s love *for* us and God’s love *in* us, to be helpful?

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      • Grant says:

        Hi Maximus, I’ll only add my thoughts (since you asked for them, you might regret that 😉 ) to Father Kimel’s article which goes quite in-depth to the subject, for what they are worth.

        Taking the Lord’s Prayer, fundamental to Christian life, prayer and praxis, there is certainly a conditionality present, and certain other events and verses seem to present this conditionality of if/then. However, this conditionality must be seen as a secondary level of our creaturely and fallen existence in this age and our current healing and rescue, placed within the primary reality of God’s unconditioned, free and sovereign love and forgiveness that both proceeds, enables and ultimately exceeds such temporary conditionality of current experience.

        To attempt to elucidate what I mean, while the Prayer (let’s stick with it since it demonstrates your concern nicely) at plain reading would suggest on a flat reading suggest God actively chooses not to forgive you (or me) what we do or are connected too or so on, even when confessing if we do not forgive another, that He is like us in a way, refusing to forgive and holding our sins over us, only willing to relent when we do (in a sense we would be being asked to be better in this picture than Him, forgiving all things, only then He acts, so in it’s worst caricatures He seems vengeful and seemingly only grudgingly offering it, though this is a extreme picture). However, this most know is not the case, and there is a reason the Lord’s Prayer is placed within the Sermon of the Mount, there in the Gospel portraits is an image of the Father given, both directly and indirectly, often in the call of what we are to be like, we are to be compared with the Father, who blesses all, both the good and the wicked, those who are His enemies with sun and rain and all blessing without restraint, and to forgive and bless those who curse you and harm you is to be like the Father. So then, that is what the Father is like, He doesn’t withhold forgiveness, He blesses and forgives in love, and Christ in who we see the Father exemplifies this, He forgives without being asked (or seeking that they themselves have forgiven all), examples are there such as the paralytic, the women in adultery, and of course supremely in His crucifixion, as He is being crucified He calls for forgiveness from the Father, forgiving His enemies even as they torture, mock and kill Him (and to see Him is to see the Father), they are not at this point repentant in anyway yet He forgives them.

        So God has already forgiven, and as He forgives He in Christ takes on to enact that forgiveness to liberate all, as St Paul says, reconciling the world to Himself in Christ. In this context, the conditionality presented is one of our current experience and situation, if we hold unforgiveness and debts (spiritual and material) we keep ourselves bound to the defeated system of death (much as say the older brother) and hold ourselves from partaking and enjoying the Jubilee in Christ. Now of course, non-universalists will unlikely disagree here, but would probably state that here the choice and conditionality remain, if someone stays in unforgiveness then they hold themselves off from God’s grace, potentially forever. However, here we need to see and place as with all our current movement of existence in it’s conditional and temporary stage it is in, and of this age, and in the context not only of God’s already prior love and forgiveness and His act to liberate us from bondage, but to see this prior and ultimate state and reality in it’s full implications framing the conditional statements. The unconditoined declarations and promises that Christ has come to seek and save the lost and deliver all out of darkness, that God so loved the Cosmos that through Him it would be saved, that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (thus all sins), that the judgement is Christ on the Cross and that when He is raised up He will drag all people to Him, the pictures of God as the Shepard seeking His lost sheep and not resting until all are found, or the woman searching for the lost coin (so actively drawing all to Him), the labourers, the good Samaritan as a image of Christ (helping and healing before anything asked), His prayer to the Father to forgive us all because we don’t know what we do (a prayer surely to be answered given who asks), and St Paul’s declaration that all shall confess Christ is Lord, but who already reminded us this can only be by the Spirit and to salvation and so on.

        And there in the prayer for forgiveness remains the point, unforgiveness is a bondage that blinds us and afflicts our thoughts and actions, our sense of what is true and love, one of fear that means we know not what we do (as with all sin), and mistake illusion for Good and Love, for God. God, just us He creates sovereignty to give us the possibility of freedom, and declares that only the Son can set us a free, and only in Him are we truly free, when we know the Truth, this prior, already enacted and encompassing love and rescue will deliver us from all bondage and illusions that hold people captive, And even in stubborn ignorance holding grudge or debts over people, because passions enslave, or hatred or fear, or false righteousness, which entraps us for the time being, in Christ God has already delivered us and thus will deliver us and bring us out of bondage into liberty even if due to our ignorance and mistaking of things makes the road a bumpy and difficult one. Eventually the Truth will illuminate all things over time without forcing our free movement, but rather enabling it, till all are drawn to Him. These unconditional declarations work at this prior and Primary level, and the current conditional level defines the current engagement and grammar of life towards Christ (here where we still often know little of what we do, and can often remain in damaging habits) particularly within the Church to help illuminate our free engagement with Him and our liberation and where we yet fall. However, this is like recovering from an accident in which you know you will make a full recovery, some days are bad, and some people take longer than others, even making themselves miserable for quite a while, but in the end, the prior work of the physicians have already made sure before any action is taken that recovery and freedom shall be had.

        Therefore conditions such as the Lord’s Prayer define the current praxis of the Church life, similar the liturgy and the current partaking of the Eucharist, it underlies the current engagement of the age to come as it is present for us now, but it is enfolded into and is seen in the light of the unconditional love, creative action and redemption in God prior to our existence and in which we are enfolded, and of the all-conquering love of Christ and God’s rescue in Him, in which all are being dragged to Him and in Whom all things are being reconciled to God, by whom all sins have been taken away. The first are eternal reality into which the conditional both derive, depend and thus are superseded without removing the free response they reflect. They interpret and give the conditional context rather than them being in opposition (much like our freedom not being on contest with God’s freedom).

        Hope that helps a little in reflecting my thoughts, and of course Father Kimel’s article is even better in reflection on such matters.

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        • Maximus says:

          These are helpful thoughts to consider, Grant. Thanks for sharing them. I resonate strongly with several things you said and will continue to consider them as I read Fr Aidan’s post. Thanks again.

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  8. NicholasofKentucky says:

    Father Kimel,

    I very much appreciate you sharing your wrestling with the personal dimensions of the Gospel. I’m sure many others here (including myself) have had their fair share of wrestling matches with the God Who gives sight only to the blind.

    In reading this article, I wondered how Forde (and perhaps Jenson) would interact with Maximus’ understanding, as I’ve heard it through DBH, of all distance disappearing between oneself and the Beloved. It seems to me that Forde’s theology doesn’t escape the weakness of abstractions quite as well as he may think it does; while it is true that the expression of love between two lovers is better than some kind of mathematical analysis of love, it is still an expression within language, which is itself necessarily an abstraction of our immediate experience. We have then traded pure abstraction for a kind of involved abstraction. The response of Maximus, if DBH’s understanding is correct, is that there is a yet deeper understanding of the love of God, one in which His love is not given as a rhetorical possibility (or “reality”) between interlocutors, but as an immediate reality to the soul. Even two human lovers would most likely prefer some experiential expression of the love that is shared between them to the admission of one to the other that they love them.

    Further, I think this would also show Farrell’s distinction between nature and person in Maximus to be at best highly provisional. One’s person can never be wholly distinct from one’s nature, and it seems to me that when one’s “personal” will gets into trouble is when it mistakes itself for one’s natural will. It is to mistake Adam and all he represents for one’s own Logos, rather than as a logoi of the true Adam.

    I can understand if I’ve not ultimately offered anything helpful to one who is charged with preaching the Word. As I have had no experience with ministry, I do not know what kind of implications one could draw from this other than ones that might be seen as quite depressing. Perhaps the best one can do in the discourse of the Gospel is to try their best to point constantly towards new and higher modes of existence within the context of God.

    If I have misrepresented any of the figures that I have mentioned in my post, please forgive my ignorance.

    In wishing for all things to be well,
    Nicholas

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Hi, Nicholas. Thanks for your interesting question. Let me take a guess (and it’s only a guess) how Forde and Jenson might respond. When you in faith receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, are you truly united to him in the immediacy of your soul? Surely the answer is yes. The same applies, they would insist, in the right preaching of the gospel, i.e., when the preacher stands in the place of Christ and in his name and speaks the Lord’s love, absolution, and mercy. This Word is not just a word about God but is the Word of God, in the fullness of his glorified reality. It is no less physical than the Holy Gifts, for the Word comes to us in and as sound and is received by the physical organ of hearing. It is a word, the Word, filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. If this is true—and I believe it is—then how does this affect your understanding of the “deeper love of God.” God gives HIMSELF in Word and Sacrament. What is deeper than this?

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      • NicholasofKentucky says:

        Father Kimel,

        Thank you very much for your response. It is clear that my thinking on this point has not sufficiently taken into account the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It appears that it was in fact myself that was speaking in the most abstract terms of all.

        If I may ask one more question; what would then be the role (if any) that intellect and silence play in the revelation of the Lord, especially in relation to prayer?

        In hoping for all things to be well,
        Nicholas

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  9. Grant says:

    On thing I might quibble with would be the concept that it against a sense of autonomy as such. The world in which Christianity was first born was not one where autonomy and Individualism were ingrained concepts, it was one group and communally oriented and on people’s lives were written and already fated, dominated by uncaring, exonerable forces (and for the majority as capricious and uncertain as their rulers who were the sacred order manifest). The order of the world was the divine order manifest and their birth determined their role, with life and death already determined. Among the Germanics had their Doom already written, unavoidable and unchangeable, and in which the world as well as themselves were doomed to fall to chaos and the monsters.

    To these Christ and the Gospel was a thunderbolt of liberation from uncaring, even hostile powers dominating their lives and fates, freeing them from all dark powers, influences, pretences to the divine, to life, love and liberity.

    The modern autonomy notions are the result of Christian past and thought though one that has become dislocated from the personal and relation aspects, and essential freedom of being, mind, will and understanding and apprehension of the Truth and the Good and true understanding of desire aims that proceed choice.

    Predestination is the confident call that God has created us and in His Son freed and liberated us from all dark, irrational and destructive forces enslaving us, now and in the future, and nothing can prevent that rescue and deliverance, in the Lamb slain before the Cosmos we were all included, seen and delivered to full joy, life, love and liberity no matter the path we go in our hurt and confusion, I. Christ the second Adam are all made alive and celestial. Predestination is the logic and proclaimtion of 1 Corinthians 15, it is indivisible from universalism.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Grant, you may be right about autonomy and the ancient world, though here we are talking about sinful autonomy and false selves, and surely that goes back to the Fall. In any case, the decisive point is that the gospel must be spoken today to sinners, with all of our bondages and delusions. This preaching of the gospel (hopefully) will generate either faith or offense (or perhaps both) in all who hear it. If it doesn’t, then either we have done a poor job with our preaching (likely!), or the Spirit, in his wisdom, has chosen not to open their ears.

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      • Grant says:

        I don’t think I would be much good a preaching 🙂 I’m to convoluted when I attempt to communicate such ideas, but I don’t think I disagree, though of course part of that freedom from dark powers is that within ourselves, our own addictions, attitudes, ignorance and tribal and other commitments and beliefs to the truth and from such fears and hatred and all that binds our freedom of being within. Perhaps that will very much still resonate today, particularly with social media giving a vivid demonstration of how little freedom people have, how their concepts, ideas and choices are shaped for them by the ideologies and groups they are part of, drift into, conditioning how they look at things, inflaming passions and hatreds and conditioning what they choose. Add marketing and such into the mix, and perhaps people can see not only externally, with hostile elements to creation in terms of failing bodies and dangers,of conflict and controlling politics, economics and all sorts of things they have no control over and condition and influence their choices but even from within, that perhaps little is different from ancient times, we just give different names to our dark powers (and to their unquestioned sanctity to dominate our lives at times 🙂 ). Into this perhaps the message of unconditioned liberation and being chosen for freedom and life, and of the surety of liberation from without and within of all hostile forces, delusions and such is powerful if communicated. But if the Spirit isn’t in it, nothing helps I guess, and if He is, no matter how the message is delivered it will succeed, and of course whether the message is verbal, in action or hopefully both.

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  10. Maximus says:

    Fr Aidan, thank you for the link above. It was a good reminder of things I need to remember. For instance, I agree that God does not change. I may also agree, in a sense, with McCabe that “God does not respond to his world.” The most noticeable statement for me, however, was this: “…if you want to try to be good, that is because God is loving you; if you want to be forgiven, that is because God is forgiving you.” The problem I have with this statement is that it leads to this conclusion: if God loves everyone equally (which He does), then everyone would want to be good; and if God was equally forgiving of everyone, then everyone would possess a contrite heart and want to be forgiven, which is, of course, untrue. To my mind, these are some of the implications—i.e. dead ends—which result from the teaching of God as pure act, as absolutely simple, and as utterly unconditioned by His creatures. This theology puts all the onus on God for salvation and must lead either to universalism or to vision of God who arbitrarily doubly predestinates.

    I agree that God, in his essence, does not change. McCabe makes this point well. But I think he goes too far toward monergism: he *identifies* God’s act and the human response, notably seen in his quote that you posted in the comments, “Our contrition *is* God granting us forgiveness” (his emphasis). I would be willing to say that the divine and human acts are simultaneous in salvation, but they cannot be identical. In order to exist in state of forgiveness—which I understand to be a state of ontological peace with God—a man must respond, at the very least, by synergistically allowing God to act in his life. In this way, it seems that God’s act is indeed contingent on me opening myself to His love and forgiveness—that is, His intent to bless me is not contingent on my action, but the deifying blessing itself surely awaits my surrender. If we say that His blessing *just is* my surrender, then only one activity is at work, the divine act.

    For the sake of argument, I could agree that the entire world is already forgiven in Christ. Yet, even if God has already forgiven me in Himself, it seems I will not experience God’s forgiveness as transforming grace until I permit that grace to flood my life. Resistance to God is always possible, but so is a subsequent openness. And I think that humble state of openness is what Scripture calls a contrite heart—a human act performed in co-operation with the Spirit. I resonate with the patristic image of God’s love shining like sun rays, equally, upon all His creatures. Some fashion themselves like mud, which the sunbeams harden and crack, while others offer themselves like wax, made soft and pliable by the heat, ready to be impressed by the Spirit. All this is to say that while I believe in divine immutability and divine initiative, there still remains a priority of human response before the healing presence of God’s love can affect our wounds. And if we do not respond—that is, if we resist—He will not force His salvation upon us. Thus, it still seems to me that our act of repentance (et al.) forms a condition on receiving the transfiguring power of God’s forgiveness, even if our act does not change God in Himself.

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  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not read the last three 23 Oct. comments or all the 24 Oct. ones, but it occurs to me to suggest it might be interesting to read Charles Williams’s play, Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury in the context of this post (and the discussion) – if anyone decides to try that, it is transcribed online at fadedpage.com.

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  12. sybrandmac says:

    Father Kimel,

    “And because predestination simultaneously intends Jesus, Israel, Mary, and the Church, it also intends the individual believer in Christ…” I would add “and it intends also the individual non-believer”.

    And instead of “To be in the Church is to be in Christ; to be in Christ is to be in God; and to be in God is to enjoy eternal salvation in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”, I would say “To be human is to be in Christ; etc…”

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