Divine Election: One Evangelical’s Perspective

We have looked at my view of divine sovereignty and human free will in a previous post. I affirm that God determined before creation everything that He would do in history and everything that he would allow free creatures to do. I do not believe that God merely responds to human beings after seeing what they decide to do. I believe that God has arranged all the event of history according to His plans. This does not mean He has done evil, but that He has allowed it for His own good purposes.

In another post I shared that I believe in the total depravity of human beings but deny the Calvinist doctrine of total inability. I believe people are morally depraved, that is, they are hostile to God and His authority over their lives. Though they have the constitutional ability (i.e. they could if they wanted to) to repent of their sins and trust in Christ after hearing the Gospel message, they never will. Men are sinful. They are opposed to God. They can turn to Him, but they do not want to. They are evil.

I shared in my last post that because of this moral depravity, apart from the convincing grace of God, they will never come to saving faith in Christ. I shared that I disagree with the Arminian that a person can successfully resist God’s persuading grace when God has determined to win their heart. Though they usually resist many facets of His convicting work, ultimately, He will overcome all their objections and lead the person to the feet of Christ for salvation. I pointed out that though this is in a sense irresistible, it is not the same as Calvinism’s “irresistible grace” because it is not monergistic.

My Perspective on Divine Election

With these doctrines in view, it should be clear where I fall on the issue of divine election. Since conversion is a work of God’s Spirit, His persuading grace is always successful, and He determined everything He would do in history before the world began, then it follows that God determined which individuals He would lead to saving faith before the world began. I believe that before creation God determined whom He would leave in hostility and rebellion against His Son, and whom He would lead to salvation by conquering their rebellious and hostile hearts.

Though I disagree with the Calvinist on the nature of irresistible grace, I agree with him on the nature of divine election. I do not believe that God determined whom He would save according to how they responded to the Gospel message. Since the Bible teaches that men are hostile to God, no one will respond positively to the Gospel apart from God’s convicting grace. And since the Bible teaches that God’s saving grace conquers the hearts of those to whom it comes, all those whom God intends to convert, will be converted to Christ. Therefore, God’s choice of whom to save is not based on something good He foresees about the sinner or the sinner’s decisions but is based solely on His divine discretion.

God’s Good Intentions

What motivated God to save some of His enemies?

  1. His eternal purpose to glorify His Son
  2. In love He predestined some to adoption
  3. The good pleasure of His will
  4. It causes the glory of His grace to be praised

What motivated God to leave some of His enemies in their hostile rebellion?

  1. To show His wrath
  2. To make His power known

…making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, which are in heaven and on earth. Ephesians 1:9-10

“…in love He predestined us to adoption as sons to Himself through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace which He graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:4-6

What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory, even us, whom He has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?

-Romans 9:22-24

A quote from Albert Barnes will be helpful at this point for those who struggle with this doctrine:

“When, therefore, he converts and saves a soul, it is clear that he always intended to do it. He has no new plan. It is not an afterthought. It is not the work of chance. If I can find out anything that God has “done,” I have the most certain conviction that he “always meant” to do it – and this is all that is intended by the doctrine of election or predestination. What God does, he always meant to do. What he permits, he always meant to permit. I may add further, that if it is right to “do” it, it was right to “intend” to do it. If there is no injustice or partiality in the act itself, there is no injustice or partiality in the intention to perform it. If it is right to save a soul, it was also right to intend to save it. If it is right to condemn a sinner to hell, it was right to intend to do it. Let us then look “at the thing itself,” and if that is not wrong, we should not blame the purpose to do it, however long it has been cherished.”

(Albert Barnes, Commentary on Ephesians 1:5)

I long resisted this doctrine because I assumed it led to fatalism. For this reason, I tried hard to avoid the clearest interpretation of certain verses. I reasoned that If God had already determined who He was going to save, there was no use in praying or evangelizing. And yet the Scripture obviously taught that if I would pray and evangelize, God would act. So, I committed the error of accepting some things taught in God’s word (i.e. prayer and evangelism) while rejecting something else that was also taught in God’s word (i.e. sovereign election). I should have accepted both and then sought to reconcile them in my understanding. Shamefully, I did not accept the clear meaning of certain passages until after I was able to understand how they could be reconciled with other passages I already accepted.

I imagined that whatever God planned in eternity would automatically be done in time. I failed to understand that in the present I can evangelize and pray effectively. God promises to answer prayer and go with us when we proclaim the Gospel. If I pray for my children to be saved, God will presently hear my prayers and respond to them. Not only that, but since He is able to convert hearts by His persuading grace, I have confidence that my children will be saved as I daily pray and share the Gospel with them. God made His plans in eternity, this is outside of our understanding. But He works out His plans in the present. He promises to hear prayer and infuse our evangelism with power, so it is our responsibility to do it, and our hope that God will make it effective.

My Objection to the Classical Arminian Perspective

In this section of The Evangelical Debate series I am presenting my views. I cannot at this point sufficiently defend my views against other theological perspectives by discussing and exegeting every related passage of Scripture. But I do want to share same basic biblical reasons I do not accept the Arminian position in this case.

The Classical Arminian position on divine election states that God determined to save the individuals which He foresaw would not resist His prevenient grace but would instead trust in Christ. Since classical Arminians believe that enabling grace is necessary in the conversion of sinners, but is also resistible, presumably there are many whom God calls to salvation by convicting grace but fails to convince of their need for Christ. In my understanding this contradicts Romans 8:30 which teaches that those God predestined He calls, and those He calls He also justifies. It seems that the calling is successful in every case so that the number of those predestined was the same as those who were justified. From this passage and others the reason some come to faith in Christ and others do not is not found in rejection of prevenient grace, but because they were not elected in eternity or called in time.

And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:30

For observe your calling, brothers. Among you, not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty men, and not many noble men were called.

1 Corinthians 1:26

My Objection to the Corporate Election View

Some go beyond the classical Arminian position and deny that God’s word teaches that God elected individuals at all. This view, often called the corporate election view, states that God’s predestined plan was that He would save the Church, the Body of Christ. Those that are members of that Body through faith are elected, and those who are not in the Body of Christ are not elect. In this view, people could be elect at one time, and then later become non-elect because they stop believing. This has become a popular position among Arminians and Open Theists.

I believe this does not do justice to the many scriptures that speak of God’s determining whom he would save. He didn’t just determine to save those who believe, but he had specific people in mind when he determined to save them.

…in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory, even us, whom He has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:23-24

Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:10

Conclusion & Questions

I believe God determined which individuals He would lead to saving faith in Jesus Christ. He did this in love for them and in order to glorify His Son and His grace. On the issue of divine election, I fall on the Calvinist side of the debate.

  • On which side of the debate do you fall?
  • What are your biggest theological objections to the Calvinist’s view of divine election?
  • What are your biggest theological objections to the Arminian’s view of divine election?

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