Within the Calvinist soteriological discussion, there exists an intramural debate regarding the order of God’s sovereign decrees for redemption and reprobation. Specifically, the question to answered is this, when the decrees of election and reprobation came into being was humankind considered to be fallen or unfallen. In other words, what did God have in view when His decrees were issued. Did He contemplate humankind as collective members of a corrupt, fallen mass or, were they seen as simply as beings that He would create. In the earlier discussion of the traditional Calvinist view, the majority Infralapsarian position was detailed. Briefly, the Latin infra locates the decree for election after the Fall and makes the objects of that decree fallen and corrupt. The complete ordering of decrees (as detailed by Boettner in Reformed Doctrine of Predestination) reads then as:
- Permit the Fall
- Election to redemption
- Decree the work of Jesus Christ as atonement
- Sending of the Holy Spirit for the application of redemption
Those who order God’s decrees in a Supralapsarian fashion place the decree to election to redemption and eternal life and reprobation and destruction prior to the Fall. Thus, the reordered decrees would be:
- Election of some of the future creation of humankind to life and others to death
- Permit the Fall
- Send Christ to redeem the Elect
- Send the Holy Spirit to apply the redemption
With Beza as his teacher, Arminius was exposed to this plan’s ordering and it became one of the primary factors in the development of his theology. He vehemently disputed this idea as, for Arminius, it made God the author of sin and ran completely contrary to His holy character. By placing the discriminating decree in the first position, God exercises His sovereign will to elect humans as humans, not fallen humans.
The debate between the infralapsarian and supralapsarian positions is very speculative as scripture does not provide an overwhelming body of evidence confirming one side or the other. The choice is largely made along the lines of procedural logic (the rational planning principle.) Placing God’s will over the lives and eternal destinies of His creations in the forefront of all of His succeeding decrees manifests His sovereignty in what some theologians call the greatest example of soli Deo Gloria. They are convinced that this exercise best brings glory to God, the predominant aim exhibited in Scripture for all of God’s activities.