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What’s the Difference Between Predestination and Determinism?

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Christians sometimes worry about predestination. They hear that God has predestined some individuals for salvation and others to hell and then worry if they’re among the lucky few.

Unlike Calvinism, Free Grace theology affirms the reality of free will, and denies that we’re like robots forced to live out our programming, nor are we like characters in a novel whose every word and action have already been written. Instead, we’re genuinely free—including free to believe in Jesus. Salvation is offered to everyone, not just to a predestined few. Whosoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life and will not perish (John 3:16).

So what, then, do we think about predestination?

I think the first step is to make sure we don’t confuse predestination with predeterminism. Paul Achtemeier helpfully distinguishes between the two:

“The philosophical notion of predeterminism means that every act and every thought a person has are dictated by forces beyond that person’s control. A programmed robot in a factory is predetermined. Its every act is dictated by the computer program to which it responds. That is not what Paul is speaking of when he discusses God’s choice of destiny for peoples in chapter 9 (note again, of peoples, not of individuals). Predeterminism allows no room for any free acts” (Paul Achtemeier, Romans, p. 155).

So, how is that different from predestination? Achtemeier explains:

“Predestination, on the other hand, simply sets the final outcome of a process, without determining the route by which it can be reached. An automobile trip to another city is predestined: The goal of the journey is set, although the actual route taken may vary depending on choices made in response to road and weather conditions, for example” (Ibid.).

I hope you can see that while free choices are incompatible with predeterminism, they’re perfectly compatible with Biblical predestination. In predestination, God cooperates with your choices without causing them.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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One comment on “What’s the Difference Between Predestination and Determinism?”

  1. So how do we explain my sheep hear my voice and I know them or those that were appointed unto eternal life believed or whatsoever is born of God ----even our faith or chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.(Ephesians 1:4)
    I know this is a difficult subject but the scriptures clearly testify to both free will and election.

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