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The problem with predestination
bressler color

When I was in seminary and beginning the process that would lead to a doctorate, I was required to spend a summer working in a hospital environment. I not only had to know the hospital's policies, but also every area where patient care was given: emergency room, nurses' stations, intake, counseling, was on call 24/7 and had to meet with a qualified supervisor, prepare in-depth written reports (often post mortems) and attend specific seminars in order to stay up-to-date with regulations and modifications. I developed a very sensitive loyalty toward anyone in the medical profession.

I also had some very specific instructions: I was not to visit certain patients because of their religious position and because I was a Presbyterian. I first guessed it was because of my charm and good looks. The therapist, to whom I was referred for some reason, said, "Bressler, you are a Calvinist and you are bow-legged." Could I help it that I served on the USS Iowa BB61?

I spoke to a Baptist pastor and good friend and asked, "Why must I stay away from folks like you? Yes, we are called the frozen chosen and believe that we must let church out early to beat the Baptists to the restaurants, but is that the reason?"

He told me that some, certainly not all, churches teach that Presbyterians believe God decides before we are born that some are going to heaven and some are going to hell, and that's just the way it is. "John, I know you don't believe that, and we absolutely don't believe it either."

Here's the rub, folks. John Calvin was quite a theologian who developed what is called in academic circles the TULIP theology. TULIP is an acronym to help people like me remember things. He taught about Unconditional election and that's what teachers like St. Augustine and Calvin accepted as a fact. We're talking about predestination, and yes, it is spoken of in the Westminster Confession of Faith (circa 1647) which is taught and almost revered in academic circles. Augustine and Calvin were both great influences when it came to the writing of the Confession.

I read and studied the WCF in its entirety but could not, in good conscious, accept the belief in predestination. In fact, except for the fact that when someone sees a snake, he or she will run into a tree, that's the only sure-fire example of predestination. There is, however, a biblical precedent used by both Calvin and Augustine to support their position. Romans 8:29-30 and 9:14-18, without question, can be read accordingly, but I believe the two took the Scripture out of context to fit their understanding of a world of unredeemable unworthy human beings. However, when I read Romans 8:31-39 and especially John 3:16-17, I am truly comforted. I confess I am pretty close to heresy in some circles because I believe, like the people in Joshua 24, that I can with complete freedom choose the salvation offered to everyone through belief in Jesus Christ.

I have read Dr. Guthrie's book on "Christian Doctrine" and argued with him on more than a couple of times that he gets so precise in trying to compromise every thought about things like: we are free but not totally, is election and predestination one in the same or different, why are Americans more blessed than people in other countries, and other hard to resolve questions.

If I truly were a pastor who believed that some people (very few by Calvinistic standards) were unknowingly elected and the rest were doomed (regardless of their belief and trust), then I would be living a hopeless life and should not be allowed in church, let alone in a hospital, and if I were a believer who thought I just might be a complete Calvinist, I wouldn't let me in either.

Today is a wonderful and remarkable day! Yes, I know what Calvin said, but I also know that Jesus Christ died for the totally depraved and the complete unworthy. That's me!

Thanks, God!


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