The view that election in the Bible is corporate in nature is one of the least discussed and considered positions when this topic comes up for discussion. William Klein, one of my seminary professors, wrote the seminal book on this topic in The New Chosen People. In order to understand this view of election two terms must be inextricably linked in your mind: corporate and vocational. Any discussion that purports to refute this view without this pair of terms front and center should be dismissed out of hand due to its ill formed argument.
Election as Corporate and Vocational
1 Peter 2:9 provides a starting point from which to work: “But you are a chosen people , a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (NIV) The challenge to the predominant belief that election is about a number of the fallen being unconditionally or conditionally chosen for salvation begins with the reading of plurality found in this body of scripture. Rather than election as individuals, election is seen as a people group. Thus, when Peter writes that ‘you are a chosen people’ (cf. NASB – race, KJV – race, RSV – race: race confers community better than the NIV choice of ‘people’) he is speaking corporately and he assigns their God given mission in saying ‘that you may declare the praises of him’. Election then,is about a people and their God-given task. God’s objective in a corporate election is found in the calling given to this people: not the salvation of a few but the gathering of the nations into an eschatological fellowship. The election of the community is a component of God’s comprehensive will to save humankind.
The Corporate view developed out of theological struggles with what Calvin himself calls a dreadful decree (Institutes 3.23.7) in which God who on one hand exclaims His love for the whole of the world while simultaneously electing some to salvation and choosing others for destruction. Barth (himself one of the greatest Calvinist theologians) diverged from his mentor as he considered the Augustinian double predestination that the theological framework demands and found it unacceptable saying that makes God out to be two-faced saying ‘that it makes it sound as if God were saying to humanity, not “yes” but “yes” and “no”‘ (Church Dogmatics)
Theologians Paul Jewett and William Klein, among others, point out that when the topic of election is raised in the Bible, it is consistent in referring to the elect as a class, not individuals. The plural language puts election into corporate terms, Klein saying “The biblical data present an impressive case that election is not God’s choice of a restricted number of individuals whom he wills to save but the description of that corporate body which, in Christ, He is saving.” (New Chosen People) This notion is most clearly portrayed in the election of Israel as a people through which the world will be blessed. The Church continues in this tradition as those elected in Christ to carry on the blessing of the world. This election is not for privilege however, but for vocation. God calls a people to himself in order to change history. The corporate entity elected by God would be His covenant partners in the salvation of the whole human race. The called community has the potential to be an advance representation of eschatological future, attractive and welcoming those still outside the community (1 Cor 7:29).
This view of election is little discussed in the shadow of the ongoing Calvinism-Arminianism tussles but it presents a substantial enough body of texts and logic to prevent it from being dismissed out of hand. Though it can sometimes veer into the areas of Open theism and Unviversalism, it is representative as a whole of the loving character of God presenting Him not as capricious and arbitrary but as desirous of the salvation of all of His children and His willingness to use the Church to to fulfill this desire.
7 thoughts on “Views on Divine Election: Corporate & Open”
It sounds to me more like arbitrary choice by a monarch than an ellection of people.
Are your referring to this view of the Calvinist? God chooses a collective body of people to represent Him as beacons of light and invites all others to join this vocational body. That doesn’t sound like the arbitrary choice of a king.
The view of corporate election has become more popular in recent days. While it seeks to dispel the notion of individual election, it fails to adequately deal with particular texts. It deals to a great extent with Romans 9, but never comes to the real point of dealing with Jacob and Esau primarily as individuals. And what of verses such as Acts 13:48 (“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”)?
Further, to state that election is merely arbitrary and capricious strips the Scripture of what it declares. Namely, election is bound up with God’s love (Ephesians 1).
I agree with you, Pastor Warren, that the view of corporate election “presents a substantial enough body of texts and logic to prevent it from being dismissed out of hand,” though I believe that it ultimately fails to address what is attempting to correct. Added to this are the problems of veering into open theism and unviversalism. It does this because, at its core, it is Socinian.
Also, the fact that God has ordained some to eternal life (per Acts 13:48, et al) does not negate the fact that He desires the salvation of all and that He does not delight in the death of the wicked.
Those who read Augustine, Luther and Calvin witness these men representing God as both sovereign and loving, not capricious and arbitrary. There is also an evident concern about the “salvation of all of His children and His willingness to use the Church to to fulfill this desire,” as you put it so well.
Brother James,Of the views that I reported on in this series of posts, this is the one in which I found the least comfort from a scholastic point of view. It appears to come from the fact that it is the least argued and that it does lead one toward Pinnock’s Open Theism, a position I have studied and dismissed. I wonder if we can view this corporate-vocational calling, not as salvific but as the work of the Church? As His Holy people, are we not called to be the agents through which He works His transformation of the world? Perhaps we can place more importance on the vocational call of the Saints than we often do in revelling in our individual status before the Father.
Like you, I dismiss Open Theism (the old heresy of Socinianism). I would agree with you that we – as God’s holy people – are called to be His agents for transformation (e.g., “being salt & light”). One who has a “right status” before the Father (justification) must understand that this calling is inseparable from the call to service (sanctification as an individual within the Body of Christ and in His service).
Jacob and Esau’s mention in Romans 9 is not about their salvation but about God’s decision to choose one to become the federal head of the nation of Israel and the continuation of the line that would produce Jesus.
A little late to this discussion but I have also read Klein and others on corporate election. There are two camps and I think Klein’s view has been misrepresented here as the view that corporate election is primarily concerned with some sort of mission. That is not Klein’s position. He sees that some instances of individual election are missional but sees the great sweep of election language in the NT as corporate unto salvation. We participate in this corporate body (of Christ) through faith but the corporate body is viewed as primary while the individual is viewed as secondary and derives his or her identity and benefits from the group (see Shank: Elect in the Son).
Christ is the “chosen one” and we are “chosen” in Him. We come to be “in Him” through faith. Brian Abasciano provides a strong defense of the primarily corporate view in his critique of Schreiner’s defense of a primarily individual election view here.
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