Predestination is a doctrine which has occupied an uneasy place in the history of the church. Few have attempted to construct their theological system on the edifice of predestination. As most scholars now recognize, not even Calvin made it the central dogma from which all other doctrines derive. (1) If predestination generates uncomfortable questions, it also invites theologians to grapple with the most profound implications of a religion which proclaims a sovereign God. Taken seriously, it forces one to consider the ultimate questions of meaning, existence and salvation. How one understands the relationship between God and humanity is fundamentally affected by one's acceptance or rejection of predestination. Without necessarily occupying the center, a strong doctrine of predestination is like a pebble dropped in a pond; it creates ripples throughout the entire theological system.
Properly understood, the doctrine of predestination has to do with the exercise of God's will in eternity past with regard to the eternal future of each member of the human race. Generally, this doctrine has two component parts, election and reprobation, or the divine choosing and rejecting. In the broad scope of church history, especially since Augustine, advocates of predestination fall into three general categories. First, there are those who take a non-Augustinian view and advocate a conditional predestination, that is, the divine will to elect or to reprobate is contingent upon the foreseen deeds of humans. If God foresees that a person will respond favorably to the Gospel, then he predestines them to salvation. On the other hand, if God foresees that an individual will reject the Gospel, then God rejects or reprobates them to eternal punishment. In both cases, God's will is conditioned by what a man wills.
The second category, which might be viewed as semi-Augustinian, includes those who construe election in a different light than reprobation. Election is regarded as unconditional, that is, God elects some to salvation from his sheer mercy without regard to foreseen works or to anything outside himself. In contrast, reprobation is viewed as conditional and thus depends upon foreseen rejection of the Gospel by sinners. This is also called single predestination. One important variation of this view is simply to ignore the question of reprobation as being beyond human comprehension or as liable to create undue consternation, while affirming the positive idea of election. (See Scott Keith's article on Philip Melanchthon in this issue.)
The third category may be designated Augustinianism, and it adopts a full unconditional double predestination. God elects some to eternal salvation and reprobates others to eternal damnation without regard to foreseen deeds. The fundamental idea in double predestination is that both election and reprobation issue from the divine will and nothing else. Within each of these three general categories, there have been many variations and different nuances, but most of the theological expressions of this doctrine throughout church history can be placed in one of these three categories.