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The chosen—and the unchosen

The doctrine of election—that God sovereignly chooses people for salvation—has always been controversial. This book brings together five different ways of looking at it, to help you make up your own mind. It is Perspectives On Election: Five Views edited by Chad Owen Brand, ed. (Broadman & Holman, 2006, ISBN 9780805427295).

Three of the views are mainstream, the other two more fringey. Of the three mainstream ones, two are variations on Calvinism, both holding that God from the beginning has chosen certain people to be saved eternally—with the grim corollary that he must also have chosen the rest to perish eternally. Many of us find the latter incompatible with a God who, according to Scripture, is love.

The two varieties of Calvinism are infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. The first maintains that God considered humanity as already fallen when he chose the ones he would save, while the latter holds that he considered them still unfallen when he did his choosing. The convoluted arguments remind me of the medieval discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

The third mainstream view is that of Arminianism, which holds that God’s election is based on his foreknowledge of the real-life choices that people would make in response to their revelation of him.

The two fringey ones represent, first, universalism, which by definition means that everybody is elect, and process theology, which argues that God’s knowledge of people’s future choices is limited but it is likely that most people will make the right one and thus turn out to be elect in the end.

The mainstream views tend to assume that election means the choice of individuals, and that it is for salvation (or damnation) that God chooses them. Alternative viewpoints emerging from the discussion are that election should be seen as primarily corporate, not individual, and that the elect are chosen primarily for service, not for salvation.

Each of the five scholars presents his case, then the other four respond briefly to it—an approach that makes it easy to weigh the strength of each writer’s arguments, since the other four are determined to expose its weaknesses. This book will give you plenty to think about. Indeed, it will penetrate to the very roots of your belief system.

The following quotations are all pulled from the five major presentations, none from the responses.


The general call is extended (in principle) to every person everywhere, yet not all of those who are called actually respond to the call and are saved. But the effectual call is extended only to some people (i.e., some of those who hear the general call), and when this effectual call comes to them, all of those so “called” are saved. The effectual call effects the salvation of all of those so called.  (p16 Infralapsarian Calvinism)

While God’s “knowledge” in Scripture can refer simply to God’s cognitive and factual knowledge of what occurs, in many instances it has the richer relational meaning of God having a disposition to favor and relate intimately with (“know”) certain persons.  (p26 Infralapsarian Calvinism)

Arminians insist…that God predestines only the ends and not the means. He predetermines to give salvation to all believers, but he does not predestine certain unbelievers to become believers and the rest to remain in their unbelief. Those who accept Christ through faith do so of their own free choice. Their choice of Jesus Christ is not predestined. That choice, however, is foreknown; and as a result the choosing ones become the chosen ones, who are then predestined to receive the full blessings of salvation.  (p81 Arminianism)

If foreknowledge is [as Calvinists claim] basically the same as predestination, then Paul’s use of both terms in Romans 8:29 makes no sense.  (p90 Arminianism)

That God from all eternity freely and unchangeably decreed whatever comes to pass in earth history is a given in Reformed Christian theism.  (p151 Supralapsarian Calvinism)

Many theologians, most notably some of the Augustinians, reject the idea that loving-kindness is an essential property of God; John Calvin, for example, explicitly considered this idea and explicitly rejected it.  (p208 Supralapsarian Calvinism)

If God has commanded us to love our families, our neighbors, and even our enemies, as the New Testament consistently affirms, then a doctrine of limited election carries the awkward implication that God hates (or simply fails to love) some of the ones whom he has commanded us to love.  (p215 Universalism)

Which is greater and therefore more extensive: the effects of Adam’s sin, or the effects of Christ’s act of righteousness? Which will triumph in the end: sin and death (at least in the lives of millions), or Jesus Christ?  (p250 Universalism)

Folks without number have been vexed by the thought that God aims to bring only a handful of souls to heaven and to consign the rest to the rubbish heap, making it sound as if God only cares for a select number and not for humanity at large.  (p280 Process Theology)

Romans 9–11 is about the sovereignty of God to do things his way and the orientation is corporate. There is no arbitrariness as regards individuals. God’s goal is to have mercy on both Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 11:32).  (p302 Process Theology)

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