Thursday, August 16, 2007

Unconditional Election

Part of a series on the Five Points of Calvinism
[Introduction] [Total Depravity] [Unconditional Election] [Limited Atonement]

The second part of TULIP is, of course, the U: Unconditional Election. This seems like a doctrine that no believing Christian could argue with, because the Bible so continually talks about election from cover to cover. God elected Noah and his out of all the men on earth at the time; God elected Lot out of Sodom; God elected Joseph our of the sons of Jacob; God elected Moses out of all those babies who died to not only be saved from the Pharaoh's order, but ultimately to save "Israel mine elect" out of all the nations of the earth, such as the Amalekites; God chose Isaac and Jacob but rejected Ishmael and Esau, and not because of what they had done; God elected Saul though he had hid himself among the stuff to escape being chosen; God elected David from among his brothers to be king, and ultimately every king of Israel thereafter; and the list goes on.

Then in the New Testament, the disciples did not choose Jesus, Jesus chose them; God first chose the Jews to receive salvation, then the Gentiles; God chose Peter (unwilling though he was) to start the transition to allowing Gentiles into the church; he even chose Saul to be an apostle period, though he was completely unwilling. Ephesians 1:3-14 best sums it up:
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. (Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV)
Note that in every case, God did the choosing without regard to whether the person had done anything good or not (i.e. unconditionally); in fact, in many cases (e.g. Lot, Saul the king, Saul/Paul the apostle), the person chosen was quite wicked. So the fact of election should be so clear in the Bible from cover to cover, that there should be no discussion required, at least among Christians. (Unbelievers also disagree with the idea of God's election, of course, but that would be expected.)

Yet, Christians rail at the idea of God choosing unconditionally. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that people have no problem with the idea of God choosing unconditionally in all the above cases, but they rail at the idea of God choosing us unconditionally for salvation. Why is that? It seems to me that if you have a problem with God choosing us unconditionally for salvation, God has a lot more to answer for that just that. What about all the other people on earth in Noah's time? What about those poor babies in Moses's? What about the Gentiles for thousands of years before God sovereignly chose them in the New Testament days? Where does God get the right to make all those choices unconditionally?

He has the right, of course, because He is God, and we are not. And since we trust that God is right in making all those decisions, why not trust that God will rightly make the election decision as well? Yet, we don't. One of the worst examples is Dr. Nelson Price's wretched bus stop analogy. Where do I get off calling it "wretched"? I call it that because, although I highly respect Dr. Price in so many ways, his analogy so completely ignores the facts that it's almost criminal. It would be like me saying that the reason we should not be atheists is because atheists kill babies. In fact, it's worse than that, because a logical result of believing in atheism is that human life is not worth anything, therefore killing babies can be justified by any number of practical reasons.

However, no Calvinist/monergist could believe what the bus stop analogy seems to say that they believe. Nobody believes that a "missionary couple who with zeal have served Christ all their lives" would be rejected by God because they are not among the elect, and that for two reasons. First, we cannot look at that missionary couple and know for sure if they are among the elect. It may be that they were externally serving Christ because they thought they could earn their way to heaven: like the little boy in the joke being told by his mother to stand up against his will, perhaps they are standing up on the outside but sitting down on the inside. Perhaps they are missionaries because an elderly relative promised them a big inheritance if they became missionaries. The truth is, neither I nor you can truly judge somebody else's motives; heck, we have a hard enough time judging our own. But surely God can rightly judge people's motives. And this is one reason why the bus stop analogy is bad: because God would never judge wrongly, as the analogy implies.

The second reason why the analogy is bad, of course, is more basic: that missionary couple would never want to serve Christ with zeal in the first place (assuming that zeal was real and holy) unless God had first elected them and then regenerated their hearts, taken out the heart of stone and put in the heart of flesh.

So what do Christians who wish to deny Unconditional Election do with the many Biblical texts that teach election? They redefine it. In the above article, Dr. Price defines election as being that God "gave man a free will to choose his or her eternal destiny depending of his or her faith in Christ." In other words, in a way that is compatible with the presupposition of libertarian free will. I am not sure what text that comes from; in fact I would say that such a definition of election is completely against all the examples of sovereign election given above. Is it possible that this is what God means by "election" in this one particular instance? Sure, but it militates against every other example of election ever given in the Bible. The evidence for that understanding would have to be very strong to go against the entire tenor of Scripture like that, and I submit that it is not. The references below contain many references that show exactly that.

Another redefinition is by Dr. Ergun Caner. He signs many blog posts with the tag line "Elected because I selected" and this, in fact, seems to be a catchphrase of his. With all due respect to Dr. Caner (who I do in fact respect very much), that makes no sense at all. In what sphere of life is my choice the cause of being "elected" or "chosen"? Am I elected President of the USA because I want to be? Am I chosen captain of the hockey team because I chose to be? Did Israel become God's chosen people because they decided to be? No! In fact, I'd submit that the idea that "elected because I selected" would never be proposed for any use of the word "elected" if not to counteract the obvious meaning of the Biblical doctrine of election.

So, if you chose to disbelieve in Unconditional Election, do it for good and consistent reasons: don't believe that God is sovereign over every sphere of life, especially including man's salvation. But don't pull the word out of the Bible and then redefine it to a completely alien concept based on your presupposition of man's libertarian free will.

Additional Resources:

Spurgeon on Election
A "Southern Baptist" on Election
Boettner on Election

1 comment:

J.A.W. said...

Gary, I think you did a great job summarizing the "U"! I had not heard of the "Bus Stop" analogy before, but I think you're (Biblically) justified in calling it "wretched". It's baffling to me that Christians have problems with this understanding, despite the abundant, clear evidence of God choosing us regardless of any choice or doing of good/bad deeds by the chosen.

Keep up the good work, Brother!