Thursday, February 7, 2013

Election, Predestination, and Bad Presumptions

Once upon a time, to keep myself from succumbing to the Lutheran echo chamber, and because I had started to love Barth, I took it upon myself to keep up with Reformed circles. When one's bread and butter has been Lutheran—Roman Catholic dialogue, with a hefty portion of intra-Lutheran (and often also infra-Lutheran) bickering, it's refreshing to explore the strange world of Calvinist, Arminian and "Evangelical"/Fundamentalist pieties.

Of course, now I live there, even as a Lutheran, writing a Barth dissertation. Some days, even many days, I swim in those circles more than the Lutheran ones. It might even be noted that I have a distinctly Barthian approach to Luther, which I will tell you is more faithful than many Lutheran approaches. And as a result I find much of my own world strange enough—but all the more so when "we" bring up topics like election, which in my experience has become one of those taboo subjects that tends to get one labeled with the C-word. (Little-known fact: it's illegal to shout "Calvinist!" in a crowded Lutheran church. Especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota! People could get trampled.) You see, we don't do election; we do justification. And it's no wonder that Barth saw these as cock-eyed versions of one another. I believe he saw that correctly. When the Reformed discuss election, the question is motivated by the assurance of salvation, just as much as the Lutheran discussions of justification are.

Ah, but here's the strange thing: when the Lutherans discuss election, having already handled assurance of salvation in another locus, they return to the bare fact. And the "bare fact," as it seems to be taken, is the understanding of the confessing Fathers, particularly Luther, and the Formula of Concord that some are saved and others are not. Which, to be fair, was also the Roman Catholic understanding. And it's no wonder, as I've shown elsewhere, because even the scriptures tend to believe in the self-evidence of the fact that some are saved and others are not.

It is at this point that even the Lutheran mind is driven to do weird things, like divide justification and discuss "objective" and "subjective" versions in order to theologize this "fact." The results simply reinforce my opinion that the presumption that some are saved and others are not is the only prerequisite for analogues of double predestination. And that's a hill I don't need to die on, because someone else already did. But it's a hill I will fight for, on the exact opposite claim that all shall be saved.

But I would still love it if someone could justify the idea of reprobation to me as God's idea, in such a way that it doesn't inevitably boil down to a theology built on the observation of difference in the world. Because that, right there, is the battle. Demonstrate to me that reprobation is part of God's being-in-act. I will have that argument with you.