Russ on Unconditional Election

WARNING: I?m sure some people felt that after my last post that I deceived them into reading far more than the typical 1,000 word entry into a blog. I did this by inserting them into the middle of a dialogue which removed both introduction and prefatory material. It was not my intent to deceive?and I ask for forgiveness. It is my promise this time that by reading the material after the statement that says IT DOESN’T MATTER AS LONG AS WE LOVE EACH OTHER that you will be reading far more than 1,000 words. Don?t actually read that statement because it is the punch line to a joke and you may actually be drawn in to the material below that really has absolutely nothing to do with the actual topic, is really nothing more than the crazy connection in my bowl-of-spaghetti-like mind of ?election? and ?electricity?, and thus exponentially increases the words you will read. So, just to be clear, read all the material after IT DOESN’T MATTER AS LONG AS WE LOVE EACH OTHER and you will be able to stick far closer to the 1,000 word maximum (though, it?s not really even close).

As many of you have surmised from my first post, I prefer to have a smile on my face prior to discussing these things. Not because what we discuss is not serious, but simply because it reminds us that we can?t take ourselves too seriously. So, in that vein of thought, enjoy the following:

How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb? None. God has predestined when the lights will be on. How many Arminians? Only one, but first the bulb must want to be changed. How many Charismatics? One – since his or her hands are in the air anyway. How many Baptists? CHANGE?? But we have NEVER done it that way before! How many Pentecostals? Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness… How many TV evangelists? One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation… How many Fundamentalists? ONLY ONE because any more would be compromise and ecumenical… (standards of light would slip.) How many Charismatics? None – unless the Lord leads. How many Dispensationalists? Two – one to change the bulb and one to keep the promises to the old bulb. How many Promise Keepers? None – unless Coach McCartney says it’s manly to do so. How many Calvinists? Every Calvinist knows only God can change a light bulb. How many Arminians? Since the bulb has free will – it must make the decision. How many Episcopalians? None, they assume darkness is the nature of the bulb and it would be harmful and disrespectful to violate the personality of the bulb. How many Quakers? Someone will, but there is no one officially called to be a bulb changer. How many Charismatics? None – unless the Spirit witnesses to their spirit that it should be done. How many Baptists? Two, one to change the bulb, the other to preach on tithing in order to pay for the new bulb. How many Premillennialists? While knowing where the light bulbs are, they are persuaded to wait for the official light bulb changer but no one knows when he will arrive.

How many Amillennialists? Two, one to change the bulb, the other to remind others not to fear the old darkness or trust the new light–both are only symbolic. How many Postmillennialists? One, but now he has to rethink his eschatology…. How Many Liberal Christians? 111 – 27 to reconstruct the dilapidated house that a burnt out bulb would be found in, 15 to set up a food and clothes pantry to provide for those who are both constructing and going to live in the house, 8 scholars to think of new ways of understanding light, 3 more scholars to discuss how much we?ve misunderstood the bulb, 32 to love the old bulb in the same way Jesus loved bulbs and 26 to love the new bulb the same way Jesus loved bulbs. This whole time Fundamentalists will be noting the eerie similarities between the numbers 111 and 666 and not help the Liberal Christians for fear of working with the Anti-Christ. How many Evolutionists? None – it will change itself – it will just take billions and billions of years. How many Lutherans? 17 – 5 to form a committee to find and nominate 9 people to a committee which shall then discuss the issues of light bulb changing, from which that committee shall appoint three other people to carry out the final resolution of the second committee – which is that one person shall supervise while one changes the bulb and one will follow up in one month’s time to investigate the performance of the bulb. How many Seventh Day Adventists? Just one – as long as it isn’t Saturday. How many Atheists? 1 – but they are still in darkness. How many Modern Evangelicals? IT DOESN’T MATTER AS LONG AS WE LOVE EACH OTHER.

In my last post, we began the process of looking at each of the components of TULIPS in order to see how well this model of salvation aligns with Scripture. In looking at Total Depravity, we agreed with much of the traditional position though we found no Scriptural evidence for: regeneration prior to faith; an understanding that death means spiritual inability to act; and that the non-believer is unable to exercise faith. Thus, we stated that a person will never seek God in their sinfulness. However, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God seeks each individual making them aware of their standing before Him. It is at this point that a person does or does not exercise their faith in Jesus. Having believed, they are given life which is the presence of God through the Holy Spirit living in them. All the benefits of salvation are immediately bestowed upon them (though final fulfillment awaits our resurrection).

In this article, we will look at the second component of TULIPS ? Unconditional Election. I will follow the same model as I did with the last post by defining Unconditional Election from a Calvinist perspective, list some places where Biblical support is lacking, and make a suggestion for a position that better embraces Scripture.

Unconditional Election From a Calvinist Perspective In our post about Total Depravity we noted that Calvinists believe that God regenerates some people prior to giving them the gift of faith. The logical question then becomes, why doesn?t God just regenerate everyone instead of some? And if just some, why the ones that He does? The answers to this from a Calvinist perspective lie in Unconditional Election.

Unconditional Election states that in eternity past, prior to the creation of anything, God decreed a number of things (this is typically known as supra-, infra- and sub-lapsarianism ? for a breakdown of each, go here). One of the things that He decreed was who would be objects of His grace (some Calvinists also state that additionally God chose who would be objects of His wrath, while others state that we were all objects of His wrath ? He simply chooses us out of that). Those who He decreed would receive His salvation are throughout Scripture called the elect. Those who are not chosen are described as objects of wrath or the non-elect. This choosing of the elect is in no way dependent on anything that God foreknew about them (whether they would place their faith in Him, etc. ? John 15:16) but was purely based upon His sovereign choice and thus is unconditional election. There is no way for mankind to know who of those currently dead in sin are elect and so it is appropriate for us to present the Gospel to everyone. Romans 9, John 6 and Ephesians 1 are the primary sources for this perspective, though there are many other verses that Calvinists use for support.

Where I Think Calvinists Lack Scriptural Support It is difficult to answer this part of TULIPS without a complete word study of foreknowledge, predestination, and the idea of the elect/election. I would strongly recommend C. Gordon Olson?s book ?Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism? for the most in depth study of these words that I?ve seen (and also since in the space I have I will only be able to skim over each item). Below, I assume a word study of the words noted, so, if you?ve never done a word study, go to this link or here for online resources to do so.

An important question for us to ask is, Biblically who are the elect? In the OT, the idea of being elect, or chosen, is applied to corporate Israel and to the Messiah. We recognize this because we often speak of the Jewish people as the ?chosen people.? However, this also points out something we need to be aware of ? simply to be chosen does not necessitate that a person is elect (not all the chosen people were saved). Thus, we must always use the context to determine whether a ?choosing? is the same as ?election.? In the NT, three words are used for the elect: eklegomai (v. to choose); eklektos (adj. Chosen, choice, elect); ekloge (n. election). Of the 50 uses of these words, a vast majority of these are used in reference either to Israel or to the elect of the end times. A minority of these are used specifically of church-age Christians in a theological sense (again, in a way that suggests eternal election as opposed to choosing ? see Luke 6:13 for a non-theological sense). There are no theologically significant (i.e. pertaining to God?s choosing in eternity past) uses of election in the OT or NT where election is applied to any individual other than Jesus. Nor is there any Biblical distinction between the elect and nonelect in the unrepentant state. So, the scriptural burden of proof that God individually elected people lies in the hands of the Calvinists. This proof is lacking.

This lack of evidence for individual election is what we would expect. In both Ephesians 1:4 and 1:11, Paul states that we have been chosen ?in Him.? This is a significant term throughout the NT and especially in Ephesians 1. ?In Him? we are the righteousness of God, have life, are a child of God, and blameless (there are many more?do a word search on ?in Him?, ?in Christ? and ?in Jesus?). I am none of these things either on my own or because God has decreed it from eternity past. Ephesians 1:3-13 tells us that I am these things because I am ?in Christ? who is the only person spoken of as being individually elect or chosen in all Scripture. So, the question that needs to be asked is not whether some are elect or not ? Christ is the only one elect from eternity past ? but how am I placed in Christ? Ephesians 1:13 tells us it is through belief in the gospel.

1 Peter 1:1-3 and Romans 8:29 in their simplest meanings recognize that God foreknew who would believe in the gospel and so from eternity past we have been elect ? but again, not because God individually chose me but because God individually chose Christ and I am in Christ. Some will state that this places the merit for our salvation in our own hands (since we exercise faith) and reduces the glory and sovereignty of God. Please note my last post for how faith does not scripturally amount to a meritorious work.

I could not end this section without dealing with Romans 9?.but I am already way over my word limit. So, here it goes in condensed form:

v. 1-5 ? Paul anguishes that the people of Israel do not know of the love of God in Jesus even though they have been so central to His purpose in Christ.

v. 6-9 ? Did God?s promise to Abraham then fail? No, because it is not physical descent that the promises pertain to. This can be seen in the fact that Isaac is chosen over Ishmael even though they have the same father.

v. 10-13 ? In case some might argue that Isaac/Ishmael had different mothers, Paul continues with the case of Jacob and Esau ? twins. God?s purpose in election is tied to who is chosen to be blessed. Knowing that Jesus would be the descendent of Jacob and since His purpose in election is tied into Christ as noted above, God chooses Jacob ? not based on anything that Jacob had done but to complete His plan in Jesus.

v. 14-18 ? This would seem to be unjust (that God blesses one over another irrespective of their actions and for His own purpose). Paul states that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and uses the example of Israel (Exodus 33:19 ? quoted in the context of the story of the golden calf) and Egypt (Exodus 9:16 ? quoted in the context of a plague against the ?gods? of cattle). Both worshipped cattle, yet God has mercy on Israel and hardens Egypt.

v. 19-24 ? So if it is God who does all this, how can He hold Israel responsible for being hardened? Paul turns this around and states that we who are creatures cannot question the Creator?s plans. What if God?s purpose in electing Christ included the hardening of Israel so that the Gentiles might now be included in His salvation plan?

v. 25-33 ? Paul shows that the Gentiles were to become called in the same way that Israel had been called, but that it was always through faith (this is the children of promise from v. 8 ). This is the culmination of 19-24 ? Israel should have been able to see that God was working because of the faith of the Gentiles and so their hardening is still held against them.

Ch. 10 ? Paul elaborates on how righteousness is not through the Law but through faith

Ch. 11 ? Paul shows that Israel has not been rejected. Instead, it is the Gentiles who have been grafted into the tree and, in the same way, God will fulfill all His promises to Israel and re-graft Israel into the tree.

It is important to note throughout this passage, that although Paul is not speaking of every Israelite or every Gentile, he is consistently speaking of a group of people, not individuals (notice the consistent use of plural pronouns and the consistent use in all three chapters of Israel and Gentiles). It is additionally significant that every individual mentioned in Romans 9 is used as a representative of a people-group in the OT. Though Calvinists would like to use this as individual election, the context of both the immediate passage and the passages in the OT do not bear this out. God is speaking here about Israel and Gentiles as a group, not individual election.

So, to sum up, Calvinists need to answer the following questions to align their theology with Scripture:

  • If individual election by God in eternity past is so certain, why are all the references to elect people (other than Christ) plural (or, to put it another way, please identify any person in Scripture who is stated to be elect individually)?
  • Why contextually ought we to think of foreknowledge different in 1 Peter and Romans than what it seems to say at face value?
  • A traditional Biblical hermeneutic is to take into consideration the context of OT quotes when understanding a NT passage (e.g. Matthew 27:46, 1 Peter 2:24). Why do Calvinists feel we should suspend this for Romans 9 when every OT quote either explicitly or implicitly speaks of groups of people/nations, not individuals?

One final question. If election is unconditional and has been decreed in eternity past, then the eternal outcome of every person has already been predetermined. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 11:20-24? If Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah were vessels of wrath (which, historically they clearly fell under God?s judgment and were not elect), then how could they have become elect (repented) simply by seeing Jesus? miracles?

So How Do We Understand Unconditional Election Based on Scripture We realize that there is election (of Jesus) and that believers are recognized as elect (because of their association to Jesus). But this is so far different from what Calvinists teach in Unconditional Election that it?s probably just best to say that we don?t believe in Unconditional Election (however, it should be quickly noted that we do not believe in Conditional Election either ? we simply don?t believe in any type of Individual Election other than the individual election of Jesus). Since there is no Scriptural support for the election of any individual other than Christ, biblically only Christ is elect. We are elect but only by our association with Christ by being placed in Him ? since He is the elect one and we are in Him, we are elect. We are placed in Christ when we believe the gospel (Ephesians 1:1-13). God foreknew all of this in eternity past and so has seen us as elect for all time (1 Peter 1:1-3, Romans 8:29).

-Pastor Russ-

Russ on Total Depravity A message from Rey: The discussion has been going pretty good thus far, just wanted to remind folk that Brother Russ is a guest here so treat him with respect and love. Also, please supply Scriptural references when mentioning something so that those studying can also refer to the verses?after all neither Russ, nor myself nor even you are the final authority on Scripture?thank the Lord for that.

  • T – Total Depravity
  • U – Unconditional Election
  • (F) – Faith
  • L – Limited Atonement
  • I – Irresistible Grace
  • P -Perseverance
  • S – Sovereignty
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