The Gospel as Election
A student of God’s word is confronted with the concept of the Gospel as Election. This phrase could also be stated as the Gospel of election because God’s election is good news. However, if you are aware of the current situation in the church, you know that there are three prominent views of election being taught today. The summaries I offer are broad and somewhat vague. There are variations within each of these perspectives that offer differing alternatives of the way it works out. Nonetheless, these general categories provide us an overview of the current state. These will be pictured as they relate to the teaching of original sin and the call in each group as these two concepts are at the heart of the teaching.
The vision of this page is to understand God’s Purpose “in Christ” that was formulated from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The mission is to gain an understanding of the nature of the Gospel, and how that nature works itself out in the election and calling of those who will belong to the Beloved Kingdom.
Called through the Gospel
Paul begins 2 Thessalonians 2 with an eschatological glimpse into a time of lawlessness. He brings his reader back to the present when he reminds these Christians that they were chosen and called. The same logical order of choosing and calling is used in Romans 8:30, where the idea of choosing is represented by the word predestined. (1) This same pattern is evident in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding Noah and Abraham. The Genesis writer is talking about how evil the world was and then “boom,” we have God telling Noah to make an ark. The same type story is in Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham. In both, election preceded call.
No one should underestimate the essential nature of the election and call in New Testament theology. However, the camps are divided regarding the understanding of these concepts. If election and call are an essential part and the Gospel is non-negotiable, we are mandated to explain these concepts.
Election is commonly understood as God’s choice of an individual or group for his purpose or destiny.5 Paul would agree with this. In fact, Paul sets the time in which God made his choice — “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This statement by Paul is strategic to the doctrine of election. In the following table, there are four brief summary points regarding the doctrine of election. The “A” column represents the Reformed position arrived at from the teachings of Augustine and Calvin. Column “B” gives four rebuttals for each of the summary statements in column “A.”
Doctrine of Election
Supporting the Reformed position on predestination, the Westminster Confession states, “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care … Additionally, those whom God has predestined unto life are effectually drawn to Christ by the inner working of the Spirit as they hear the Gospel.” (2)
The logic of predestination has been a mystery to many. I have heard professors and ministers say that there is no reasonable explanation from the human perspective. It is a divine prerogative. For me, this sounds more like a Greek god whose greatest attribute is power rather than the God of the Hebrews (the same God that Christians share) whose greatest attribute is the restraint of power.
However, to determine their validity and logic, these longstanding teachings must be placed under the scrutiny of the Pauline teachings to determine if they are valid. We cannot come to the biblical teaching with our predetermined understanding of the term. We must gain the understanding from the Scripture. Let’s not get the cart before the horse. Just as in the selection of New Testament books, we must ascertain the apostolicity of this teaching.
The Logic of Predestination
Using the Logic of Action, (3) we understand that God’s formal declaration before the creation of the world was in itself an action. This action will have a rational sequence that demonstrates both the logic and purpose of God. It will show his intentions. The supporters of Reformed predestination declare in unison that this is a great mystery that we as mere humans cannot grasp. Paul states otherwise: “In all wisdom and insight, He made known to us the mystery of His will” (Ephesians 1:8b-9a). In his wisdom, God did something before humanity existed that is still having a direct impact on humanity. In his great wisdom, he determined that he would need to demonstrate his righteous nature both for and in humanity. This makes sense if humanity has a need for this. Only God would know before the foundations of the world if his intervention would be necessary.
According to the table above, the Augustinian and Calvinist view would support the idea of the Westminster Confession that the mystery remains. There is no mystery as Paul has clearly stated, “God has made known the mystery of his will?” Is predestination outside of the will of God? To quote Paul, “May it never be!” (4) God predestined; that is without question. But, there is no mystery.
(1) The Greek is proorizō. The root (orizō), “means ‘to limit,’ ‘to set the limit,’ and then fig. ‘to fix,’ ‘to appoint’ (Karl L. Schmidt, “orizō,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 452.). Adding the preposition, pro, sets the time reference showing that the setting happened in the past with a view to the future of whatever was set.
(2) "The Confession of Faith." The Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Orthodox Presbyterian Church, n.d. Google. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://opc.org/documents/CFLayout.pdf>.
(3) “The logic of action is the formal study of action in which formal languages are the main tool of analysis.” (Krister Segerberg, John-Jules Meyer and Marcus Kracht, "The Logic of Action", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/logic-action/>.) This is an appropriate philosophical tool to use since our primary resource for the examination of predestination or any theological theme is language.
(4) This is a favorite expression of Paul’s used 14 times in three books (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians). “He exclaims, “By no means” (or “Let it not be,” “Perish the thought,” “God forbid”). This expression occurs often in Paul’s epistles—including Rom. 3:31; 6:2, 15; 7:7; 9:14; 11:1, 6—and elsewhere. (William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, vol. 12–13, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 111.)”
* This page is an excerpt from is my book Non-Negotiable: Focusing on the Essentials of the Faith. The book goes into more detail on many of these issues.
Last update 6 September 2015