Friday, May 23, 2014

Election vs Free Will

Do you like arguing about theology?  Oh, wait, I forgot you are a 21st century western civilization Christian.  You LOOOOVVVVEEEE to argue about theology....and doctrine....and church practices.....and pretty much everything else.

What gets people more heated than anything?  Election vs Free Will debates.  AKA, Calvinism vs Arminianism.

For those who have been lucky enough to have avoided knowing too much about this SUPER ESSENTIAL argument.  Let me briefly sum up the two positions.  But with the qualifier that I am in no way intending what I am about to write to in anyway be a completely exhaustive(or perhaps even fair) summation of either position.

Arminianism/Free Will:

Every person has to make the choice for Jesus.  No choice is also considered a "no" for Jesus choice.  No one is bound for evil, or, bound for good.  We are free will moral agents responsible before God for the choices we make.

If I was a competent blogger I would list a number of bible verses here that support this position.....


God Himself "elects"(chooses) who is to be saved and who is not to be saved.  This places a high value on God's absolute sovereignty and is hyper focused on our utter sinfulness and inability to do anything to "earn" salvation.  If you are God's elect, you WILL be saved BECAUSE of HIS work, if you are not, you will NOT be saved.

Ditto on the competent blogger post...blah blah blah, bible verses.

Where we Go Wrong

Are you able to know whether or not you are elect?  Probably not.  You know what is inarguable?  Jesus Christ came as fully God and fully man to die in the place of sinful man and to rise again and that through him(regardless of your view on elect/free will) and only him we can be saved.

The mechanism by which this actually works is a bit challenging to work out.  Not that lofty and challenging theological introspection is without value.  But here is the problem, the bible is pretty liberal at mentioning both.  It mentions constantly our responsibility to claim with our lips the Jesus is Lord, AND, it talks about God's elect. 

But, regardless of the actual details of the mechanism, both positions are clear.  It is only through Jesus that it happens. 

How did Jesus deal with the issue of election?

Let's take a look at an interesting exchange in Matthew 15

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Jesus appears to be a bit of a jerk here.  This woman is making quite a scene begging for help, yet he ignores her.  When pressed to respond to her he replies, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel"

Did you catch that?  Jesus had a specific, pre-ordained, ministry goal....shades of Election perhaps??

But this non-elect woman does not stop.  She comes right up to him, kneels before him and calls him Lord.  And Jesus heals her daughter just as if she had been one of the "Elect". 

Jesus was there for a specific people.  God had elected to send him there for them.  But when a non-elect person, by faith, comes to Christ crying "Lord Lord" Jesus commends her for her faith and in no small way shows great love and mercy to her.  In a way, her position transforms from non-elect to elect. 

I cannot deny that the bible speaks with clarity about God's elect.  Yet, here is a beautiful picture of our Savior reaching across that divide to one who was not elected. 

In practice and theology I lean much closer to Reformed and Calvinist theology.  But this is how I personally read scripture regarding this issue.  I do not believe that Election is a mutually exclusive position.  Meaning, ONLY those who are elect will be saved.  Scripture, as I read it, shows that the Elect WILL be saved, but when, by faith and calling upon the name of the Risen Savior, the non-elect come to the feet of Jesus, they will also be saved.

So how do we take this bit of theology and apply it to our lives.  Well, you don't know if you are elect, and neither do I.  But what I do know is that I have a responsibility to respond to the call of the Cross.  And the message of the Gospel is a responsibility that all followers of Christ are called to share. 

When we get lost in debating the nuances of the mechanisms by which God does what He does, we avoid the personal responsibility that we do have.  So let us cut down the rhetoric and start proclaiming that the Cross of Christ is the only hope for ALL men!


  1. Hey Adam,
    I just want to point out that while you say you stand near the Calvinist position, by believing "non-elect can come to the feet of Jesus and be saved," you are much closer to the Arminian position than Calvinism. Calvinists believe in unconditional election. You are the first person I know to claim to be a Calvinist and deny (at least for some) this point. Arminians believe in conditional election, which exactly matches your interpretation of Matthew 15. And one last clarification: Arminians believe they are free to chose Christ because they have been given prevenient grace by God to do so. Arminians do not believe they are free to chose Christ on their own, apart from God's grace. This other position is called Pelagianism (from a dude named Pelagius). I'd recommend a book by Roger Olson named Arminian Theology. Obviously he is an Arminian, but his goal with the book is only to clarify the Arminian and Calvinist beliefs. He doesn't to try to disprove either doctrine. I hope this helps clarify things a little. I could say a lot more, but I'm afraid I will be seen as the very person whom this post denounces (a debater of nuance). :-)

  2. Hey Chris! Thanks for the response. You are helping push my blog comments total to nearly double digits.....over the course of three years.....

    I do believe in unconditional which I mean, those who God has chosen to save WILL be saved. But I don't read it as an either/or position. Where I become a bit of a "Calminian" is where I feel that those who are not "elect" are shown (at least here in Matthew 15) to have the opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus. I think smarter theologians call it "double pre-destination" when they argue for the absoluteness of salvation for Elect and the absoluteness of the no salvation for the non-elect. I am a single pre-destination person, if that makes sense....

    1. Let's see if we can break your comments into double digits! This distinction between single & double predestination had been lost on me due to having slept too many times since I last studied the subject. Now that I've refreshed my memory, I find it very strange that God would elect a group of people irresistibly and leave everyone else (or only some) free to choose Him. I still believe this position has more in common with Arminianism than with Calvinism because most Calvinsts insist that none of us can chose God, that He must chose us irresistibly.

      As far as I can tell, this position breaks the following parts of the TULIP for the "Matthew 15 people": unconditional election (some are saved with conditional election), limited atonement (Christ must have died not only for the elect, but those who could be saved), irresistible grace (some could chose Him, but don’t). This is identical to what Arminians believe, the only difference is scope of application. Arminians believe this applies to everyone, your description of single predestination only applies it to some/all of the non-elect. What does single predestination Calvinism buy you if you cannot know whether you are elect? They appear indistinguishable from a practical living standpoint.

  3. Not being a master theologian.....I would say that as far as how is it a "practical" concept for isn't. That being said, I think many theological concepts do not necessarily create a prescriptive claim, but are our best attempts at describing Biblical truths.

    As far as my position on single pre-destination...We see the concept in scripture where God calls certain specific people(s) for specific reasons. For example, Sampson was "elected" to serve a specific purpose. And, though he acted quite poorly in living up to who he was made to be, in the end, God had his way with him.(irrestible grace....?)

    I think of the idea of single predestination as a theological framework that illustrates God's absolute sovereignty. And that it is also his graciousness shown clearly that He will get those he plans on getting while still keeping the doors open for those who will respond in faith to the Gospel. Perhaps the "practical" impact for Christians is....1) God is sovereign and we are not(God is God, I am not) 2) We have a burden to proclaim unceasingly.

    Just thought of another interesting picture of this. During the time of Jonah the Ninevites were NOT God's people. And, this was before Christ. Yet God wanted to extend a chance for repentance to them. While He works out his primary purpose through His elect(Israel in this case) He does not automatically dismiss others.

    Rahab is another good picture of this. Not God's elect, but grafted in because of her faith.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Adam. I am challenged to dig deeper into the doctrine of single predestination. All of my study on Calvinism has been based on the double predestination doctrine. One question I am left wondering is what is meant by God being "fully sovereign" in the doctrine of single predestination. As far as I can tell it must hold the definitions of God's sovereignty from both Calvinism (in regards to those who are elect) and Arminianism (in regards to those who are not elect), which just sounds confusing.
    Since much of our conversation has centered on "the elect" I want to share the Arminian perspective on it. Arminians believe that there are only 2 classes of people: the elect and the non-elect. By definition these people are saved and non-saved respectively. And no one moves between classes. The important distinction Arminians make is HOW God determines who is elect. Arminians believe God enables us by prevenient grace to freely decide whether we want to follow Him. God's class of elect people is determined conditionally by each person's choice. His perfect foreknowledge makes these classes set in stone. Everyone who will be saved is elect by definition.