If I could name the number one question I get about Protestantism, it would be “What is predestination?”. Put simply, predestination is the belief that God arbitrarily picks who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. This is probably one of the most confusing doctrines to Latter Day Saints because it not only goes contrary to every belief we have about the plan of Salvation and the Council in Heaven, but also our innate view of justice and agency.
I should say right up front that not every evangelical protestant believes in predestination. It is limited to a sect of Protestantism that holds to reformed doctrine, especially the teachings of John Calvin, popularly called Calvinism. I should also say that many Christians, who do believe in predestination, are wonderful, genuine human beings who love the Lord with their whole heart as they understand Him. That being said, let’s dig into this doctrine. The easiest way to explain predestination is to use the acronym they use themselves to understand it. T.U.L.I.P.
T: Total Depravity
When they refer to total depravity, the total is referring to the extent of depravity, not the depth. They are not saying we are vile worms and are the worst of humanity, but rather that every part of our humanness has been affected by the fall, including our will, emotions, and intellect. Because of the fall in the garden we are no longer even capable of understanding God, or accepting him as our Savior. Our will is too sinful. Totally depraved beings will not naturally desire to know God, therefore it is impossible for man to repent of their own free will.
U: Unconditional Election
Because of total depravity and man’s inability to desire God, in His mercy, God has chosen some for salvation and some for damnation. Those chosen for salvation are called the elect. Election was not based on any merit of their own, nor did God base it by looking down the span of time to see who would accept Him and who wouldn’t. Because our will and intellect are totally depraved, none of us would accept Him. Therefore, as a result of His mercy, He randomly chose some to be saved and enjoy an eternity with Him in Heaven. If He had not done that, then all of the race of men would be condemned to hell.
L: Limited Atonement
This doctrine teaches that Christ only died for those He has chosen to save. The reasoning behind it is that if Jesus will not lose any the Lord has given to him, as the scriptures say, then “obviously” His atonement was only meant for them. Otherwise He died for those who do not accept Him and the promise of God to the Savior is false.
I: Irresistible Grace
If God has called you to salvation, you will be unable to resist the call. You will repent. Not because of any merit of your own, but because He chose you to repent and changed your heart. There is no such thing in the Calvinist view as God issuing a call to salvation that does not get accepted, simply because God has to change their heart for them to accept. If He wills it done, it is done. Period.
P: Perseverance of the Saints
The perseverance of the saints means that if you are truly elect (ie. Chosen by God for salvation), you will remain faithful until the end. If, however, you do stray from the faith, then that is evidence that you were never truly elect. According to my former church, the fact that I became a Latter-day Saint puts me in that category. Because I “strayed” this meant that I was never truly one of the elect to begin with. Therefore I had been assigned to damnation from before the foundation of the world.
It is very challenging to help a Calvinist see a different world view. However, I will share some passages that helped me in my struggle to understand truth. Obviously there are many passages that can help enlighten each of the points put forth by the TULIP acronym, but a singular article is not the most feasible way to discuss all of them (unless you want to read a 10,000 word article). Therefore I am limiting myself to just a few.
In contrast to the idea of total depravity, it is not impossible for man to obey God. His owns words teach so as well. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (emphasis added). Our Heavenly Father has made a promise. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. That virtually guarantees that we are at least able to obey Him. Whether we choose to or not is a different story.
The verse that “clinched” it for me though was 1 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” How can there be irresistible grace and some not be numbered among the elect if this passage is to be taken seriously? If God wishes for none to perish, and His call to salvation is irresistible that only leaves one option: all will inherit eternal life and glory. We all know, Calvinists and Mormons alike, that not all inherit salvation therefore both of those elements cannot be true simultaneously.
I am aware that there are many passages of scripture from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price that give much more illumination on these topics. However, someone who is not ready to accept those scriptures may struggle with listening to them. Remember there is much fear regarding our faith. Many denominations consider us a cult. That fear could impede them hearing the Spirit, so I try to use as many scriptures from a source they don’t fear as possible, the Bible.
I will use one passage from D&C though. After my conversion I really struggled with the term “elect”. I could only understand the word from the context of a Calvinist, until I came across D&C 29:7 “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;” Those are the elect: the ones who hear and obey His voice. May we be numbered among them.