Saturday, May 19, 2012

Engaging Arminianism: Unconditional Election


Author’s note: Please read my article on Total Depravity first by clicking here, as election proceeds naturally from our total inability to come to God of our own will.

Any true Christian believes in election. The major question is not does God elect, but how he elects. For the Arminian, God looks down the corridors of time and sees those who respond to his prevenient grace, which he gives to all people indiscriminately. This prevenient grace reverses the fallen nature, and gives all men libertarian free will to either decide to walk in the grace given, or reject it. Those who walk in light of the prevenient grace are who the Bible calls God’s chosen people, or the elect.

Calvinists on the other hand, believe what the Canons of Dort say on the matter:
“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree. For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18, A.V.). Who works all things after the council of his will (Ephesians 1:11). According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and [stubborn impenitence]. And Herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God (emphasis mine), which, though men of perverse, impure and unstable wrest it to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation” (Article 6). 

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that addition, “revealed in the Word of God.” For all who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Three Forms of Unity believe whole heartedly that, although nowhere near or on par with scripture, the Confessions do hold a true summary of what the Holy Scripture teaches. So, do the Scriptures teach the Calvinistic or Arminian outlook? 

Calvinists find no scriptural proof for the doctrine of prevenient grace. The only verse Roger Olson can come up with in his book Against Calvinism is Philippians 2:12-13, which says:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

How Olson can pull a whole doctrine dealing with major questions of how we are saved from one verse that seems to explicitly say the opposite is beyond me. Where is prevenient grace in this passage or any other part of scripture? I think the fact that Olson only uses this verse shows that there is no biblical support for such an important hinge to the Arminian position (I understand there are other verses Arminians use, but they don't actually prove what prevenient grace is said to be).

The next question to ask is, does God elect on prior faith he sees as he looks into the future? Some Arminians will roll their eyes as Calvinists point to Romans 9, where the Scriptures state explicitly that God will “… have compassion on whom [he has] compassion” (verse 15). “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (verse 18). “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (verse16). It is here that some Arminians will try to show how the election of Jacob was based on a corporate election of Israel, therefore implying that God elects the church of the new covenant corporately and not individually.

This is a faulty reading of the text and a neglect of logic, as Jacob was specifically chosen as an individual over Esau, despite the fact that they were to become two separate lines. Individuals comprised the two nations. And if we read on in the text of Romans 9, we see that Paul writes: “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved…” (verse 27). Apparently this election was not for Israel as a corporate body, but only for the remnant within Israel.

Michael Horton, in his book For Calvinism (Olson’s and Horton’s make up a two part series), points to the first chapter of Ephesians for further proof of individual election:

Ephesians 1:3-7
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…”

This verse shows that election is again based on God’s will, but Horton’s point here is to say that no Arminian wants to say that adoption, redemption, and forgiveness of trespasses is corporate. Rather, Aminians say they are individually applied to the believer. If that is true (and Calvinists believe it is as well), then taking the whole context of these verses into consideration, the Arminian must admit that predestination and God’s sovereign choice are on an individual basis.


Thus far we have seen that God’s election is individual rather than corporate, and that Election is based in God’s choice, rather than man’s choice.


In relation to election and reprobation Arminians will say, “If God chooses some to save and others to leave in sin, then God is not loving.” The Heidelberg Catechism has a concise rebuttal when it says in Answer 11, “God is indeed merciful, but he is also just; therefore his justice requires that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.” What the catechism is getting at (because it is not speaking specifically of election) is that God is merciful in Jesus Christ, but God is also just towards sin, and his justice demands that all suffer hell and torment for eternity because of that sin. Scripture always speaks of God’s covenantal love in relationship to his elect (his chosen), and to none other. In relationship to God’s enemies (and all humans are God’s enemies because of sin prior to redemption) there is always justice, except in terms of the elect who were made alive when they were dead. God’s love for the elect isn’t the wishy-washy love that the Beatles sing about, but a real covenantal love that God has for his predestined, and those only.

The Scriptures have a better rebuttal than the Heidelberg gives to the question "How could God elect some and not others?", for Arminians are asking basically the same question of those whom Paul is talking to in Romans 9:14. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” His answer comes, “By no means!” If Calvinists are answering the very same questions that Paul himself is, perhaps they are on the right track in the interpretation of the passage. 

The point is this: The last thing we want to call for is the unbridled justice of God! God is fully loving and merciful and gracious to those whom he has decided to bestow grace and mercy on. God did not have to be gracious (as in it would have been just to damn everyone to hell), but it is inherent in his nature to be gracious and he is so with his elect. God is fully just in his sentence to the reprobate, to leave them in their wickedness as they have entangled themselves. 

On a side note, Arminians also have to deal with those who never come to faith. Why do some who have been given prevenient grace come to faith, and some do not? Unless there is something “better” or more “righteous” in the nature of those who do come to faith, they can never explain this question. Why did Roger Olson come to faith, and not others who have heard the gospel? Were they more sinful than he? Did he realize his sin more than they did? Were they less intellectual, or historical, or logical? Again, the Arminian has no answer for this question. 

Despite the polemical nature of this post, Calvinists should never forget what election means for them. It gives us, as the Canons of Dort said, "unspeakable consolation." It means that we have been united with Christ since the foundation of the world. God set his sights on us, his covenantal love (his Hesed), and given us grace, because he loved us, though we were sinners. If we truly understand what we’ve been given in election, we should not be puffed up, but rather humbled. We should be confident in his covenantal love, and work out our salvation in fear and trembling, because the almighty creator of the universe is the one working in us. Doctrine should always lead us to doxology. How could it not?

Romans 8:31-39
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


For further reference:
Romans 8:28-30 says: 
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Acts 13:48
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Deuteronomy 7:1-7
When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites… seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

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