What is Divine Election?
What is divine election? The Bible teaches that God’s chooses who will belong to His people and receive eternal life in His Son; this teaching is referred to as divine election. Before we get into the differences between Calvinists and classical Arminians let me first mention the area of agreement. Both camps believe that God elected (chose) which individuals would be saved from before the creation of the world. That God chooses, and that He chooses individuals, was not debated between Calvinists and Arminians until recently with the introduction of a new theological position which I will briefly explain at the end of this post.
Arminian Divine Election
Arminians believes that God determines whom He will elect by establishing a certain condition for His election; that condition is faith in Christ. God does not randomly choose whom He will elect by some secret decree, instead He has determined to choose those individuals who place their faith in Christ. When they choose Christ, He chooses them.
Now the logical question is this, if our decision to trust in Christ happens long after the creation of the world, how then could God’s choice of individuals have been decided before the world began. Before the world began God knew what each person in history would decide. And according to this foreknowledge He elected those who would believe. So, though He elected individuals before creation, He did not do so without knowing what they would decide.
Calvinist Divine Election
Calvinists believes that election is not determined by anything God sees in us or foresees about us; they hold that the divine choice is unconditional. The reason why God chooses one and not another is known only to God and is in accordance with His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. God does not choose people who place their trust in Christ, instead God grants saving faith to those whom He first chooses according to His own purpose.
This eternal purpose is not primarily centered on mankind and their salvation. That is to say, saving rebellious sinners from wrath and hell is not God’s primary goal in human history, though it is certainly an important part of it. God’s primary purpose in history is to glorify His one and only Son. God has glorified His Son by making Him both Savior of the people whom God has chosen and Judge over those who refuse to bow to the Son’s lordship. In this way God both magnifies His grace in the elect and magnifies His wrath and power in the unrepentant. God’s choice of whom He will save is made in accordance with this eternal plan.
The Calvinist Objections
The Calvinist primarily objects to the Arminian’s view of conditional election for the same reason he objected to the Arminian’s belief that the saving grace of God can be resisted, namely it takes the glory for salvation away from God and gives it to mankind’s free will. From the Calvinist perspective, the Arminian view of divine election is not divine at all. Instead it is simply God following the decisions of men. God only chooses those who first choose Him. The Calvinist believes that the Arminan fails to give God the glory He is due for the salvation of sinners.
Secondarily, the Calvinist believes that such a view of election is a form of “salvation by works.” To the Calvinist, the Arminian concept of “conditional” election means that a person’s choice to accept Christ is what causes Him to merit salvation and God’s election. From this perspective the Calvinist believes that the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is compromised and the purity of the Gospel is put in jeopardy.
The Arminian Objections
The Arminian primarily objects to the Calvinist view because once again it seems to make God unloving. If God is love, reasons the Arminian, and He truly desires all men to be saved, then surely He would not randomly choose some to be saved and leave the rest to perish without ever even consider saving them. The Arminian believes that the Calvinist fails to acknowledge the true loving character of God.
Secondarily, from the Arminian perspective, the idea of unconditional election makes proclaiming the Gospel unnecessary. After all, God has already decided whom He will save and whom He will lead to saving faith in Jesus. Since God’s eternal election cannot be altered, and all whom He desires to be saved will certainly be saved, why preach to, and pray for, the lost? This view, concludes the Arminian, does not account for all the biblical exhortations to pray for and evangelize the lost.
These are the views and objections from each side. If you consider yourself either Arminian or Calvinist and feel I have failed to accurately (though very briefly) present your side, please comment below about how I could have best summarized your position.
Quick Note: Corporate Election
There is a third perspective that has arisen and many modern Arminians lean towards this perspective. In this view God does not elect particular individuals, either conditionally or unconditionally. Instead this view holds that the passages referring to election in the Scripture primarily refer to the fact that God has always planned to choose a people for Himself out of every nation. Proponents of this corporate election view believe that God always determined to create His Church by saving anyone who puts their trust in the Savior.