Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clarifying the issue of equal ultimacy

I was asked by a reader to discuss the issue of equal ultimacy.

Equal ultimacy is the idea that God predestines men to wrath in the same way that he predestines men to life. There is an exact parallel between election to salvation and reprobation. This position in Calvinist theology is labelled "supralapsarianism." God decrees both salvation and reprobation, and then decrees the fall as the means of bringing this about.

This is distinguished from the "infralapsarianism" in which election and reprobation are described as two separate acts. Election is God's active choice of certain fallen men unto salvation; reprobation is God's passive allowance of the non-elect to remain in their fallen state. In other words, God chooses some for salvation out of the sinful lump of humanity while leaving the rest in their sin.

These two positions are sometimes placed under a logical order (as opposed to a temporal order, since God transcends time) of God's decrees.

The supralapsarian "order of decrees" are as follows:

1. God decrees to glorify Himself in election and reprobation
2. God decrees the fall as a means of bringing about election and reprobation
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

And the infralapsarian view:

1. God decrees the fall
2. In view of the fall, God decrees the salvation of some, while allowing the rest to remain in their sin.
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

This is an important distinction to make, because Lutherans too often characterize all Calvinists as being guilty of equal ultimacy, while infralapsarianism is the predominant view. Infralapsarianism is less problematic as it avoids making God the author of sin. However, both positions are inadequate for a couple of reasons.

First, both positions are based on a theology of glory wherein one is concerned with the eternal decrees of God, rather than God's revelation in Christ--God hidden rather than God revealed--God in Himself rather than God preached. While this may be an interesting intellectual exercise, it leads one far beyond the Biblical material on the issue. I highly doubt that Paul was contemplating the order of God's decrees as he penned the epistle to the Ephesians.

Second, both of these positions place election as the central soteriological motif rather than the cross. The cross becomes merely the means of bringing about predestination--hence limited atonement. In Lutheran (and Pauline) theology, election is God's choice to bring us to the cross. This is why election is always "in Christ." The cross is at the center, and whatever other soteriological benefits are given are in view of this.


Steve said...

Jordan great post!
As a Reformed Presbyterian who’s reading through a lot of Lutheran literature, the issue of double predestination has been an issue for me for some time now. This doctrine is clearly supported in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
‘VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.’
‘III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.’
I think it can be argued that the WCF is infralapsarian, as it talks of the Redeemed being predestinated and the reprobate being foreordained, thus show election and reprobation are not parallel.
However, for a while I’ve been wondering how well this all fits in with passages like Matt 25 v41 ,’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
How can we say some of humanity has been foreordained to Hell if it was created for the Devil and his angels? I suppose one could argue that in the order of creation the Devil sinned first and so Hell was created, then Man was created. Therefore in this sequence Hell really was created for the Devil and his Angels, as Man had not yet fallen. This is sort of how I have looked at this passage for some time now. Then I asked myself, ‘If I didn’t belong to a Confession Presbyterian church, would I even hold to double predestination at all,’ the answer is a resounding no! I think that you’re correct in your analysis, by focusing on one attribute of God, namely His sovereignty and the doctrine of election we Reformed have in a way almost bypassed the Cross.
Jordan, as a Lutheran, what’s your take on the Romans 9 passage that is so often used to support double predestination?


Steve Martin said...

When we come to Christ, God gets ALL the credit.

We we reject Christ, we get All the blame.

When one actually reads the Bible, one can see that this is the case.

Christ loved and died for the "whole world".

Why some hear (rerally hear it) the gospel, and others do the mystery. And this side of Heaven we cannot lnow the answer.


Jeph said...


Does this mean you are taking Barth's position on Predestination?

Jordan Cooper said...

Steve- I may have to do a post on Romans 9 sometime. There is too much to write in a comment box. You are correct that the WCF leans toward the infralapsarian view, though the Westminster assembly was divided on the issue and so the language was left somewhat ambiguous. The 1689 London Baptist Confession on the other hand tends to sound supralapsarian.

Jeph- No, I am not a Barthian though I admire his Christocentrism. Election (usually) speaks of individuals being saved rather than of Christ himself. I am also not a universalist (though neither was Barth...necessarily) if that is what you are asking.

Jeph said...


You said: [Second, both of these positions place election as the central soteriological motif rather than the cross. The cross becomes merely the means of bringing about predestination--hence limited atonement. In Lutheran (and Pauline) theology, election is God's choice to bring us to the cross. This is why election is always "in Christ." The cross is at the center, and whatever other soteriological benefits are given are in view of this. ]

As for me, it is not "either, or" but both ways. The cross was meant to save the elect (Jn. 10:15), and we are elect so we may be brought to the cross (Jn. 6:44, 65). How can this be not Christocentric?

WittenbergsDoor said...

New Reformation Press recently reproduced this post, and as I pointed out there it is incorrect to equate supralapsarianism with equal ultimacy. Certainly all those who hold to equal ultimacy would identify themselves with the supralapsarianism, but most of those who hold the supralapsarianism would deny equal ultimacy, many going so far as to identify it as heresy. Many, many people get supralapsarianism, double predestination, and equal ultimacy confused. Not everyone who believes in double predestination is a supralapsarian and not everyone is a supralapsarian believes in equal ultimacy. It's important to keep these distinctions clear.

Jordan Cooper said...

Wittenberg's Door- If you define equal ultimacy as the idea that God actively creates evil in the hearts of the reprobate then you are right that not all supralapsarians would argue this way.
What I understand by the term equal ultimacy (I have heard many others use it in this manner) is the idea that God predestines to death in the same manner that he predestines to life- that is without taking sin into account. There is an equality in God's action on both accounts in that the decree of the fall was enacted to bring both about. Thus both God's election and reprobation are in this sense active.

WittenbergsDoor said...


Some may use the term in this way, though I don't know of any supralapsarians who utilize it to describe their own position. Supralapsarians are a pretty sensitive bunch when it comes to exactly what they hold to since they are often (wrongly) lumped in with Hyper-Calvinists. It's also a bit simplistic to say supralapsarians believe that God predestines without taking sin into account. This can sometimes be the case, especially in early manifestations, but many supralapsarians today would hasten to say that while preterition may rest only on God's holy will, His condemnation of those He reprobates does take sin into account as a matter of justice. And most wouldn't say election and reprobation are exactly symmetrical. Berkhof lays this out more thoroughly in his Systematic Theology (pg. 118-122).

It's also worth noting that Robert Reymond has recently proposed a modified suprlapsarian position that seems to negate the issue altogether, the order of decrees being:

1. Elect some /sinful/ men, reprobate the rest.
2. Apply redemptive benefits to the elect.
3. Provide salvation for the elect (through the cross of Christ).
4. Permit fall.
5. Create.

Steve Schaper said...

As a now-Lutheran who got his M.Div. at Covenant (and a fine school academically, it is), most of my classmates and professors believed that those not elect to salvation were created by God to be 'vessels of His wrath". It seems that any attempted distinction between equal ultimacy, supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism is either sophistry or emotional. Of course, I could be wrong. Calvinism has to this day robbed me of emotional certainty.

One can way over-simply and refer to Calvinism being sola fiat, not sola fide. And that the difference between Calvinists and Lutherans is that we believe that is means is, and all means all, and Calvinists deny them both.

Jordan Cooper said...

Wittenberg's Door- I do not believe that all supralapsarians are hyper Calvinists. I would never make such an accusation. If I sounded like I equated the two, I apologize.
When I am speaking of supralapsarianism, I am using the term in its original sense, not Reymond's modification of it. Yes, I have heard of this before, but I wouldn't necessarily call it supralapsarianism.

Jordan Cooper said...

Steve Schaper- I almost went to Covenant Seminary. I was turned away when I had a conversation with Michael Williams.

Anonymous said...

Ephesians 1:9-11–” making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”

“All things were created for Christ”. (Colossians 1:16) Christ “is before all things” (Colossians 1:17).

Arminians (and others who say that Christ died for every sinner) think that they honor Christ by saying that the decree for Christ to die is before the decree to elect some sinners.

They claim in this way to put Christ before election.

They think that it will honor Christ more if the atonement is not restricted to the elect. But it does not honor Christ to have an atonement that does not ultimately atone.

Lutherans can think of election as something that causes some to hear the word of the gospel and believe it, but they will not teach an atonement only for the elect.

But election in Christ is first! The death of Christ is not the cause of God’s election in love. God’s election in love is the cause of the death of Christ.

Jesus Christ is first. Jesus, the incarnate, the eternal Son of God in the flesh, is the foundation of election by being Himself the object of election. “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things.”

Jesus is not simply the one who makes election work. Jesus Himself is first. Jesus Himself is chosen first, before all the other elect. All the other elect were chosen in Jesus Christ, and not apart from Jesus Christ. Those God loves are “chosen in Him”. Ephesians 1:4

God only has one purpose in history, and that is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. God does not have a second cultural purpose which doesn’t have anything to do with Christ.

mahlon said...

Dear Bro. Jordon: Though I have been a Southern Baptist for 10 years, I have always felt the Formula's articulation of Single predestination was about as good as any confession or creed could get at arriving at an understanding of Sovereign Election unto salvation.

For a long time I have found myself either embracing Single predestination or the (seemingly) Infralaparian view espoused by the WCF. I for one have never believed in equal ultimacy. Like you, I believe that particular system is more an outworking of logic and systematic theology rather than a thorough cross-centered Biblical theology.

In my theological pilgrimage I suppose I have viewed both infralapsarianism and Single-Predestination viewpoints as differing by degree rather than kind.

I definitely don't think the Bible outlines near the detail on the state of the non-elect as we see on the riches and blessing afforded to the elect.

Nonetheless I'd like to know your opinion: are infra-lapsarianism and Single-predestinationarianim differing from one another in degree or in kind? Is Infra-lapsarinaism's statement of God "passing over" the rest of humanity still saying too much in your estimation, or are both viewpoints possibly compatible in some way?

Jordan Cooper said...

Our position is different from he infralapsarian one. The infralapsarian would say that God passed over the reprobate, allowing them to remain in their sin. We would say that God truly offers them grace and desires their salvation, so it is not simply a passing over.