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Religion Library: Presbyterian and Reformed

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Ted Vial

Calvin gives his all in attributing as much power as possible to this father figure.  It is not merely that God knows who will be saved (though God does have foreknowledge).  It is not merely that God chooses to save some out of the mass of sinful humanity (though God does do that).  Nothing, no matter how small, happens without God's active decision.  God actively decides who is damned, as well as who is saved.  Those two choices are Calvin's double predestination.

For Calvin, as for Luther, we are saved not because we become righteous or sinless.  We are simply forgiven.  Calvin expects those elected to salvation to manifest this grace in their behavior, though they remain sinners.  (Other Christians, Catholics and Methodists, for example, agree that one is saved by being forgiven.  But they then believe that one can and must strive to live free of sin.)  Further, for Calvin, this forgiving grace cannot be lost.  God grants to the elect the one and only thing God did not grant to Adam, which is the gift of perseverance.  For Calvin and for the Reformed tradition in his wake, the main point of the sacred narrative (which he believes is plainly described in scripture) is the sovereignty of the Author.

The doctrine of predestination has been examined by many scholars. One of the most influential Reformed reconsiderations of the teaching of election and damnation is that of Karl Barth (1886-1968). Barth argued that God's choices in choosing or rejecting can only be understood Christologically; that is, in Jesus Christ we see the condemnation and divine rejection that leads to death and separation from God, and in Jesus Christ we see the fullness of grace that elects people to salvation.  Double predestination, then, becomes a message about the Gospel, an invitation to embrace the unconditional grace of God, who has done everything necessary for reconciliation.

Study Questions:
     1.    What sacred narratives do Presbyterians share with other branches of Christianity?
     2.    Why is grace important to Presbyterian and Reformed communities?
     3.    Why has Calvin been labeled as a systematic theologian?
     4.    How is one saved according to Reformed thinking?
     5.    What does the doctrine of predestination say? Why is it controversial?


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