Why reach for this can of worms? What good could come of addressing a topic that has been debated for so long? Why not try to solve America’s political differences while we’re at it?
First of all, I have this crazy belief that, if interpreted correctly, the theology of Scripture should be consistent with itself. If we find ourselves favoring certain passages and ignoring others, we should recognize what we’re doing and be open to a broader perspective.
Second, I think it’s healthy to consider other points of view. Not because we can never be sure of anything, but because it’s important to practice being more open-hearted, if not open-minded.
If more believers would set their pom-poms aside and open themselves up to criticism, we might discover a fellowship that is more loving, humble and unified, approaching the Bible with more curiosity, relying more on the Holy Spirit for direction.
So, in the belief that we are one body, united in Christ by one Spirit, a Spirit that was given to lead us into all truth, let’s take a look at this thorny subject from three different lenses:
#1: Preselected Individuals:
God, before Creation, in his wisdom, preselected individuals that he would save despite their absolute inability or desire to choose him. Because of the Fall, every human being deserves judgment and damnation, but God, in his mercy, at great personal cost, made a way for a select group of people to be saved from their depravity in order to share eternity with him.
He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves — Eph. 1:4-6
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy — Rom. 9:14-16
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last — John 15:16a
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day — John 6:44
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed — Acts 13:48
#2: A Chosen Community:
The concept of divine election is not new to the Church. It is an old concept, rooted firmly in the nation of Israel, a chosen people that did not deserve their election. In establishing a New Israel—12 disciples to replace the 12 tribes, the indwelling Spirit to replace the external Mosaic Law, a new priesthood and kingdom under a long-awaited, resurrected Messiah—both Jesus and Paul use the same terminology used by Moses and the prophets.
The election of Israel was biological, based on the physical descendants of a man who actually did earn something. Because of his faith and obedience, God blessed Abraham, and that blessing extended to his descendants. However, the individuals involved could be grafted in or out of that chosen nation based on their adherence to the Law.
The people of Christ have a similar quality of election. Christ and his mission were prepared before the earth was made (I Peter 1:20, Rev. 13:8), therefore, in a sense, his people were chosen in him at that time (Eph. 1:4). To join Christ is to become part of God’s chosen people, his Elect, and to share in those inherited promises and blessings.
Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, He brought you out of Egypt by His Presence and His great strength — Deut. 4:37
The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt — Deut. 7:7, 8
For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me — Isaiah 45:4
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light — I Peter 2:9
#3: A Retrospective Reciprocation:
The concept of election in Scripture is undeniable, but the implications are hard to swallow. If God truly wishes for no man to perish, but for all to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9), if he truly loves the whole world enough to die for it and open a path of salvation for anyone (John 3:16, Rev. 22:17), if he is as loving and good as his apostles claim, then the Calvinist point of view makes a mockery of God’s quality of justice.
If God has preselected everyone, then why was Jesus disappointed when the Rich Young ruler refused to sell all his possessions and follow him? Why would Jesus tell the crowds that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? If Jesus was a five-point Calvinist, he would never use that adverb, and he certainly wouldn’t be disappointed by the man’s reaction to his call.
If the Fall turned humanity into a universally wicked, God-hating community, then how could Ghandi, an unbeliever, do what he did? Why is it so hard to tell believers from unbelievers? Shouldn’t the contrast between the kingdoms of darkness and light be dramatic and obvious?
If God must personally draw a person out of their depravity, then why was he striving with humanity before the Flood? Why did he strive with the wicked kings of Israel, sending prophet after prophet, watching them die for no apparent reason? Why send his apostles into all the world, as if their witness would make any difference in the ultimate outcome?
For election and predestination to make sense with the whole of Scripture, the choosing must be based in God’s foreknowledge. Because God exists outside of time and knows everything that will happen, he also knows who will make a free decision to embrace his offer of eternal life. So God’s choice is not arbitrary or unfair. It is reciprocal.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son — Rom. 8:29a
My Choice? #2, but with hesitation
Though I resonate with the sentiment and logic of #3, I don’t think Scripture makes the election of God that passive. I really think that God makes choices about people. I think we saw that when Jesus walked the earth. He chose his 12 disciples very specifically, and told them that they were given understanding while others were not (Matt. 13:11). However, beyond the 12, it seemed that people were allowed to follow or reject him according to their own free will.
I believe that God is a relational being in a profound way. Why would such a being predetermine his future relationships? What motivation would he have to do that?
An honest reading of Scripture shows that the relationship between God and man has always been tenuous and problematic, which suggests a real sense of freedom between the two parties.
At this point of my life, I think that Abraham and Jesus were the chosen ones, based on what they actually accomplished. I think that the rest of us are chosen in those people, being absorbed (or baptized) into the benefits, promises, challenges and mission that they earned before God.
That being said, I think there is plenty of room for discussion. So go ahead. Bring it.