Some Thoughts Regarding Election and Man’s Choice

At times, I post actual interactions that I have with Calvinists in order to allow others to consider both sides of an issue. This is what I have done in this article. The following is a response that I interacted with regarding my article, “Why Some Non-Calvinists Identify as Calvinist” that appeared on SBC Today.

I begin by giving a summary of his questions or concerns, which are supposed to tip the scale toward God choosing to save some unconditionally (UE). This is followed by my restating each of his statements individually and briefly interacting with each one in the rest of the article. I hope you find this helpful.

The blogger said, “A few examples of my thinking:
-The people who crucified Jesus did what was predestined to happen! But they are still responsible? How does that work, I don’t know.
-God says I was chosen? predestined for adoption? that he caused me to be born again? That the reason I came to Jesus is BECAUSE I was given to him by the Father? But I also have to choose Christ? How does that work? I don’t know.
-Does chosen mean God chose me? Rather than “God chose to save everyone who believed in Jesus?” In what sense am I then CHOSEN?
-God seems to have chosen Abraham out of Paganism to begin a new nation of God-followers, when he could have chosen a much greater number of people, perhaps all people, & revealed Himself to them and called them to follow him. But He didn’t. Why not?
-Why didn’t God “elect” to incarnate his son as an angel to redeem the fallen angels? Is this an example of God choosing to save some, but not others?

I replied, “I thought I would mention a few things that have been helpful to me in working through these deeper biblical issues—coming from the perspective of unconditional election. These are just basic questions or thoughts that have been helpful for me to consider in my own thinking processes, although they are only one small component in the process. For example,

The term election, whether in Scripture or in society, etc., only means choosing, and does not tell us what was comprended in the mind of the elector—the particulars or process. With that in mind, both the idea of unconditional election and election that comprehends other factors must be arrived at by considering other factors that can only be gleaned from a fuller disclosure from the elector.

For example, that one is elected to a baseball team, political position, job, or salvation tells us nothing of the considerations inherent in the choice of the elector. It simply tells us that one can only be on the team if election is sequentially prior to actually being considered a member of the team, and not whether there is an essential component within the sequential process from the elector choosing and the person being accepted on the team.

With this understanding, I would suggest that none of the verses you mention teach unconditional election, but rather election, prior to time, according to His own will (no external force but only what He chose to comprehend in His will). For me, what is comprehended in the choice to receive the offer is what seems so ubiquitously and clearly revealed in the volume of Scriptures, and that is the otherwise choice of man.

John 6:37 provides a good example of where I, when I was a Calvinist, along with all Calvinists, read my unconditional election into the verse. Besides all of the other arguments that can be considered, when I sought to truly evaluate just what the text said, I eventually asked myself this question. Is there anything that everyone, Calvinists and Extensivists, would agree is absent from this verse and yet essential to that “exchange” taking place?

My answer is yes. Christ had to die on the cross. Now, logically, if there is something missing as essential as the death of Christ, and there is, there can be other things missing; I believe that includes the voluminous testimony of Scripture that man must choose. That is to say, God comprehended man’s otherwise choice in this exchange. To say that other essentials cannot be included in the exchange because they are not mentioned would necessarily include the death of Christ.

Thus, I love all of the verses you quote, but I also love all of the verses that teach one can believe or not and God desires all to believe. Further, it seems best to let the verses say what they will, and harmonize without degrading either. It seems to me that unconditional election is an interloper rather than a suitable biblical deduction and replacement for election–the Scripture never uses the phrase unconditional election, and it is therefore, only a Calvinistic deduction.

The blogger said, “The people who crucified Jesus did what was predestined to happen! But they are still responsible? How does that work, I don’t know” and “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.

I would suggest that what is true of election is also true for predestination. When all of the relevant Scriptures are considered, it seems that He did in fact predestine some things in which human choice was not a factor. In like manner, it seems quite clear (to me now), if the involvement of God and man are meaningful as Scripture portrays, He also predestined certain events that comprehended the otherwise choice of man; thus, the involvement in the evil of the crucifixion may have (I believe it did) include God sending His Son (no human decision involved) and men freely choosing (in a libertarian manner) to do what He knew they would freely choose to do. This then means that while their actions were temporally certain, they were not temporally necessary–as to causation.

Your first statement is an articulation of that event that is precisely reflective of a compatible view of freedom. A view I think is totally in conflict with the nature of God, Scripture, and man as revealed is Scripture; thus your conundrum. This is not to say that you embrace compatibilism (I do not know what your position is), but only that the statement is consistent with it. A libertarian view does not lead to such a perspective. Without seeing man as having libertarian freedom, properly understood, one will be forever encapsulated in a Calvinistic bubble.

The blogger said, “God seems to have chosen Abraham out of Paganism to begin a new nation of God-followers, when he could have chosen a much greater number of people, perhaps all people, & revealed Himself to them and called them to follow him. But He didn’t. Why not?”

This particular choosing of Abraham is not the same as His choosing according to UE, nor does it carry all of the problems that UE carries, i.e. this choosing does not limit the number that God salvifically loves or offers a genuine chance to receive salvation. Therefore, it is neither relevant nor a cogent argument for UE. Also, a proper understanding of the nature of libertarian freedom provides an alternative answer as well.

The nature of libertarian freedom means that you cannot know (if God has comprehended libertarian freedom in His salvation plan) that He could have chosen a greater number….in any possible world. Therefore, given libertarian freedom, it may simply have been impossible in any possible world to have saved more than He does. It seems to me that we should not stumble over such speculative theology, as you are doing, while considering what we do know—revelation.

You said, “Why didn’t God “elect” to incarnate his son as an angel to redeem the fallen angels? Is this an example of God choosing to save some, but not others?

This to me seems irrelevant to the question of whether He chose to unconditionally elect some humans and not others since He did incarnate Christ as a human. Speculations into this area in order to understand (or not understand) the revelatory teaching regarding explicit and repetitive lucid Scriptures regarding human salvation beclouds the issue; seems to extoll the speculative above the revelatory.

Further, there may very well be particulars (I think there are but this is not the time) regarding the nature of angels, their creation, environment, etc., that make such consideration to not be an option. Consequently, this seems to distract us from clear teachings of Scripture with regard to man’s salvation and seeking to understand them in a consistent way that encompasses election and libertarian freedom.

The blogger said, “For whatever reason, these questions do not bother me that much. I’ve seen people wrestling with the “Sovereignty of God/Freedom of man’s will” issue since high school, so about 20 yrs. I’m content to let God figure it out.”

While I can appreciate such a sentiment, I do think that this issue is understandable, but not without an acceptance of libertarian freedom and God foreknowing contingencies—not just what He micro-predestined. Additionally my experience indicates, which is also confirmed by the observations of others, that leaving such in the air can at times produce unwitting double talk. I would suggest there is a better way.

I know these are rather basic thoughts, but they can help as clarifiers. It seems to me that you may still be viewing man compatibly (or at least not fully libertarian, and the two are actually mutually exclusive) and holding on to some uniquely Calvinistic definitions. It further appears to me, if one does not evaluate these on an assumption level, it is impossible to arrive at a coherent Extensivist system of thought, i.e. to extricate oneself from Calvinistically generated mysteries.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts. I am actually working on a book that delves into these rather deeply in order to demonstrate the inadequacy of Calvinist assumptions regarding the mysterious (foreknowledge, predestination, election, compatibilism, etc.).