Chapter Ten Dismantling Symmetrical Predestination There are some aspects of theology that are just plain deep. There’s no way to get around a thorough investigation of these parts. We cannot snorkel by these parts. We’ve got to put on the dive suits and just start swimming down. The waters in this chapter will get a bit colder and darker, figuratively speaking. That doesn’t mean I’m going to grow colder and darker in my explanations, I hope! It just means there are deeper waters in this chapter that some may find challenging and intriguing. Others will feel its depth and may decided to swim back to the surface and wait on the boat for the rest of the team. That’s okay by me. If this describes you, skip this chapter and go on to the next ones. I would simply encourage you that before you make that decision, swim down a little with us and see if you can ‘hang’ with us. Probably the biggest struggle in the doctrine of predestination is the bad logic that can flow from it. This bad logic is formulated and argued by opponents of the biblical doctrine of predestination, for example, when they fallaciously assume that if God picks certain people to save, then He must also picks certain people to go to hell in the same way as He picks the others to go to heaven. They further assume that if the Reformed understanding of predestination is true - that is, if God actively initiates and pursues the salvation of an elect individual - then this necessarily must mean that God actively initiates and pursues the condemnation of a non-elect individual, in the same way He actively initiates the regeneration of an elect person. This is known in theology as a symmetrical view of predestination. Theologian R. C. Sproul argues that this is a distortion of the biblical doctrine of predestination, and I agree with him. He defines this well enough for us. "The distortion of double predestination looks like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God WORKS in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine iniative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are

the monergistic work of God.”1 I agree with Sproul's conclusion that this positive/positive type of predestination - God positively works regeneration in the elect, and in the same way positively works degeneration in the non-elect - "clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistably coerces man to do.”2 However, as good as Sproul's argumentation is regarding this distortion, my opinion is that the matter must rest more on good biblical exegesis and sound theology rather than human reason.3 Any logic that is used in handling the doctrine of predestination must be a logic that is driven along the guardrails of exegesis. Just as any theology that we formulate must come from good Bible study, any logic we use must also flow from this theology. It must all be based on Scripture. And my contention is that this symmetrical understanding of predestination is not Scriptural, yet is more often than not the primary argument by opposers of the biblical understanding of predestination to reject it. In essence, they build a straw man out of the Reformed understanding of predestination by presuming that this symmetrical concept is what a Reformed person actually believes. And what is worse, they usually go further by unnecessarily burdening them with judgment and criticism that the symmetrical concept must be the logical end of what Reformed persons believe. They do this without simply asking them to explain their position. Again, rather than engaging in a decent, gentleman-like conversation, they attack Reformed persons, making a presumptuous conclusion about their theology, building a straw man out of it, and then burning it front of a cheering crowd. I can talk like this because it has happened to me personally with a grossly sinful display of hatefulness and rejection. This is pretty much the standard treatment, and I’m sure so many of you can relate. Now, while I fault such persons with an unbiblical attitude that does not seek to preserve the unity of the Spirit on the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3), I also fault my Reformed brothers who either do not know how to properly explain the biblical understanding of predestination, or
"Double Predestination.” See Emphasis added.
2 1


It is worthy to footnote that Sproul's excellent dismantling of this distortion cites not one reference to Scripture, but rather makes arguments based on the various Reformed confessions of faith. This is not the most desirable position to take if you wish to argue from the Bible!

do not know the fallacies in the symmetrical concept. Failure to do either or both has resulted in many unnecessary losses of friendship and ministry partnership. There's no need for this. Those who hold to the Reformed understanding of predestination - a position that I believe is biblical and exegetically justifiable - must be able to defend it biblically and exegetically as well as dismantle false argumentations against it. This is just what I intend to do here. The symmetrical concept of predestination is a distortion because it flies in the face of two biblical truths: the doctrine of original sin, and the nature of God's relationship to the non-elect. I'll deal with these two truths briefly, and then consider some conclusions. First, the doctrine of original sin is standard among evangelicals. There are a few rare exceptions to this, but overall, almost every single evangelical believes that man was born into sin and that he carries within his soul from birth a sinful nature, passed on to him by Adam and Eve as a result of their sin. This is clearly expounded by Paul in Romans 5:12-21. The doctrine also teaches that because man is born in a fallen state he is a sinner and therefore under the condemnation of God.4 Second, the doctrine of original sin lays the groundwork for the biblical understanding of God's relationship to the sinner. Basically, the fact that man is born with a sinful nature and already stands condemned for being a sinner (John 3:18) means that God does not have to irresistibly coerce any unbeliever to sin. The unbeliever by nature will simply do what his sin nature inclines him to do. He needs no help in either sinning or deserving condemnation. Theologian W.G.T. Shedd has shed some great insight into this matter. I know the quote is lengthy, but it will be well worth your time to read it through carefully.5 "How...does God make the everlasting continuance of sin in a non-elect sinner a certainty without compelling and necessitating his will? By letting him alone, or, in the [Westminster] Confessional phrase, by 'passing him by', and leaving him wholly to his own self-determination in sin?...Election and preterition, consequently have reference

Among the more notable examples are A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), pp. 325 ff.; Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), Chapter 29; Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), “The Fall”; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Second, Chapter One.

The word “preterition” which appears in this quote is an antonym of election. Just as God chose to save some, He has also chosen to reprobate others, or rather, leave them to their sinfulness.

to the continuance of sin, not to the origin of it…Election stops the continuation of sin; preterition permits the continuance of it. The non-elect man, then, like the elect, being already in the state of sin and guilt by the free fall in Adam, nothing is requisite in order to make it certain that he will forever remain in this state but the purpose of God not to restrain and change the action of his free will and self-will in sin by regenerating it. To denominate such merely passive action as this, compulsion, is absurd. And yet this permissive action of God secures the certainty of everlasting sin and death in the case of the non-elect, just as infallibly as the efficient action of God secures the certainty of everlasting holiness and life in the case of the elect. But in the former instance the certainty is secured wholly by the action of the sinner himself…This leaving of the sinful will to its own movement makes endless sin an infallible certainty. For the sinner himself will and can never regenerate himself; and if God in his sovereignty decided and purposed not to regenerate him, his willing and endless continuance in sin and death is certain. Every Christian knows that if, in his unregeneracy, he had been left wholly to his own free will, without any restraint from God, he would infallibly have gone from bad to worse forever and ever.”6 Now the way in which these two truths fit together is really quite least to begin with. The doctrine of predestination teaches that before God ever created the world He sovereignly decided to choose or elect certain persons - from every tribe, race and tongue (Rev. 5:9) - to save. Yet this doctrine also teaches that He did so not based on anything meritorious within those certain persons (Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:56; Rev. 17:8). His sovereign and free decision to choose to save some persons was based completely on mercy. All men deserved condemnation, but God decided, for His own glorious purposes, not to condemn some. But the doctrine of predestination also teaches both explicitly and implicitly that God left those whom He did not elect to their own sinful desires. By choosing some, those who are not chosen are left out. God, in effect, passes them by, sovereignly, freely and justly, deciding not to extend His mercy to them. They deserved His condemnation anyway,
Shedd. William G. T., The Double Predestination to Holiness and Sin. Internet article, see Emphasis added. As an additional note, the reader will find hundreds of incredibly helpful articles on predestination and other similar subjects at Monergism’s website, Many excellent books are also for sale at their bookstore (

as you'll recall the doctrine of original sin teaching. So in passing them by, He has committed no unfairness since they deserved condemnation to begin with. It is at this point that I say that the biblical understanding of predestination doesn't require the symmetrical concept. Again, if the Bible is clear that the unbeliever - the non-elect - already stands condemned for his own sin, the conclusion is that it takes no special work of God to create sin in a person. They were already born with it ruling their hearts. And consequently, God does not need to actively pursue the sinner's condemnation. The work of God in saving a person is all of God, and none of man (Eph. 2:8-9). This is called "monergism," from two Greek words: "mono" meaning "one" and "ergo" which means "to work." In regeneration, there is only One person at work. Reprobation, on the other hand, is not monergistic. The Bible clearly describes the non-elect's condemnation as squarely resting on his own shoulders. As Jesus taught in John 3:18, the unbeliever stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. With these truths in mind, I thought it helpful to include a little chart that parallels the differences. Salvation by God John 3:16,17 Ephesians 2:8 Titus 3:5 Romans 1:16,17 Others? Reprobation of Man John 3:18, 36 Ephesians 2:2 (cf. 5:3-6) Titus 1:16 Romans 1:18-32 Others?

Now that I have arranged these truths into a neat little package that is perhaps barely digestible, I'm going to have to mess it all up, at least for some readers, simply because God doesn't always deliver all the theology of the Scriptures into nice, neat digestible packages. The doctrine of double-predestination is one of those theologies. With this warning in mind, read on if you dare.

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