Types of predestination
Predestination may be described under two types, with the basis for each found within their definition of free will. Between these poles, there is a complex variety of systematic differences, particularly difficult to describe because the foundational terms are not strictly equivalent between systems. The two poles of predestinarian belief may be usefully described in terms of their doctrinal comparison between the Creator’s freedom, and the creature’s freedom. These can be contrasted as either univocal, or equivocal conceptions of freedom.
In terms of ultimates, with God’s decision to create as the ultimate beginning, and the ultimate outcome, a belief system has a doctrine of predestination if it teaches:
God’s decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of people is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and
the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.
There are numerous ways to describe the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination in Christian thinking. To some extent, this spectrum has analogies in other monotheistic religions, although in other religions the term “predestination” may not be used. For example, teaching on predestination may vary in terms of three considerations.
Is God’s predetermining decision based solely on a knowledge of His own will, or does it also include a knowledge of whatever will happen?
How particular is God’s prior decision: is it concerned with particular persons and events, or is it limited to broad categories of people and things?
How free is God in effecting His part in the eventual outcome? Is God bound or limited by conditions external to his own will, willingly or not, in order that what has been determined will come to pass?
Furthermore, the same sort of considerations apply to the freedom of man’s will.
Assuming that an individual had no choice in who, when and where to come into being: How are the choices of existence determined by what he is?
Assuming that not all possible choices are available to him: How capable is the individual to desire all choices available, in order to choose from among them?
How capable is an individual to put into effect what he desires?
Univocal concept of freedom
The univocal conception of freedom holds that human will is free of cause, even though creaturely in character. These belief systems hold that the Creator (or, in some cases, Nature or Evolution) has fashioned a system of absolute freedom: human volition that features a free and independent nature.
On the other end of the spectrum is the position that the Creator (or a foreign Being, object, etc.) exercises absolute control over human will and/or that all decisions originate with some outside cause, leaving no room for freedom.
Equivocal or analogical concepts of freedom
At the other end of the spectrum are analogical conceptions of freedom. These versions of predestination hold that individual choice is not excluded from the fashioning work of the Creator. Man’s will is free because it is determined, boundaried or created by God. In other words, apart from God’s will determining man’s will in a divine sense, only chaos or enslavement to mindless and impersonal forces is possible. Man’s will may be called free and responsible, but not in an absolute sense; the choice of good or of evil must be uncoerced to be free, but it is never uncreated or uncaused. The likeness of creaturely freedom to divine freedom is analogical, not univocal.
It is important to note that among predestinarians there is no significant representation for the idea that human choices are unreal, but merely that they are the direct expression of the Creator’s will. The analogy implied here means that however else human and divine freedom may be comparable, there is an unlikeness between the free will of the Creator and human freedom, which depends on the Creator for existence and power. With no significant exception, when predestinarians deny that man has freedom of will, it is to deny that man’s will is free in the same sense as the Creator’s will, or to affirm that man’s choices are entirely subject to divine causation. That men are responsible without being absolutely original is particularly true in these systems, if they acknowledge a doctrine of Original Sin, whereby every person is understood to be born into a condition of helplessness under the power or the effects of sin; for whom, either through inherited guilt, or the inherited consequences of guilt, a purely free choice of the good is not possible without the aid of God’s undeserved grace.
Traditional Islam holds to the powerlessness of human will, apart from the aid of Allah, and yet without a doctrine of Original Sin. Thus, Islam has a simpler version of predestination, viewing all that comes to pass as the will of Allah. And yet, the Qur’an affirms human responsibility, saying for example: “Allah changeth not the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts”. There is no significant view of predestination that entirely relieves man of responsibility for his own choices.
Therefore, all significant versions of predestination account for the differences between people (perhaps in life or, in death, or both) by reference to the will of the Creator. Also, all versions of predestination incorporate into the doctrine various concepts of human responsibility, which differ from one another in terms of the kind of volitional freedom possible for the creature.
If the idea of absolute freedom and entire self-knowledge is absent from this kind of idea of God’s acts in time, then God Himself is (to express the idea anthropomorphically) becoming something new, or discovering something new about Himself with each new moment, just as we are. It’s as though God is waking up to the possibilities that are inherent in temporally limited acts, and like an artist developing his ideas in dynamic interaction with an ever-changing medium, He is making new discoveries about himself every day. A summary of such a view might be that, the present is an encounter “in God” with new possibilities (where “God” is sometimes not understood “theistically”, in the sense of a “person”), and the past is thus a record or remembrance “by God” of the experiences of existent beings. Or, put another way, the past is what God has thus far become in the process of all experience, and the future is pure possibility. Predestination is completely excluded from such a system, except possibly in the most broad outlines of God’s intentions. God’s decision, on such a view, is an inventive experience, almost precisely equivalent to the unfolding process of historical events (thinking like this can be found in modern process theology and open theism).