A review of Matthew Levering’s Predestination: Biblical and Theological Paths.
This books says it is “dedicated to Jesus Christ, the Lord. His love is my hope.” This is a great way for a book published by a mainstream university press to begin! The author’s big question is how one can hold to God’s eternal election and his redemptive love for every rational creature without falling into universal salvation. He begins by helpfully showing that such controversies are biblical in origin, and arise from the study of scripture in its canonical and historical context. He looks at what is good but only partial in the accounts of Origen, Augustine, and John of Damascus before exploring how the tensions in their theology were codified in the medieval period. Calvin and other early modern theologians have a chapter of their own, as do the Twentieth Century greats such as Barth, Bulgakov, Maritain, and Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Levering, who is a Roman Catholic, claims to find five basic positions amongst these various writers, and himself wishes to maintain a balance (as so many do on this subject). His balancing act is between God’s equal eternal love for all against his predestination of some to life and permission for others to rebel forever. The depths of the relationship between these two things cannot be plumbed by us, he says, but the centre of the doctrine of predestination is Christ, who makes them both clear. This, in many ways, is good, and sounds pious, but the Reformed tradition generally is not so easily persuaded that further biblical reflection on these things is illegitimate. Nor must we be satisfied with the way the question has been framed here, as if it is undeniable that God’s love for all is equal and “superabundant” without qualification in scripture (is it really biblical to say God loves every rational creature with an equal and redemptive love?). So ultimately it is the biblical section and the overall thesis of this erudite but readable study with which I would most quibble, but there is much to enlighten along the way.
This review was first published in Churchman 127/1 (2013).