Views on Divine Election: Corporate & Open

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).

Conclusion

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.

Alternate Views:

  • The Calvinist View
  • The Arminian View
  • The Supralapsarian Calvinist View
  • The Sublapsarian Universalist View
  • The Calvinist Struggle with Truth

    See this simple post…yet another horrific example of the evil that exists in the dark hearts of men.

    But is this really an example of the total depravity of humankind? Those with a theological understanding of depravity must admit that an equally appalling vision of depravity is seen when you and I view our visage in the mirror. The Calvinist must take it one step further and ask the ultimate cause of horrors like Darfur, like the Holocaust, like …

    Calvinism (and any theology derived from Augustinianism) is ultimately determinist meaning that God’s sovereign will is exercised as the cause of all things, including human acts. Gordon Clark says “I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do it.” (Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 221) Without a libertarian free-will, the man would be unable to not perform this wicked act and though the ultimate motivator for this heinous act may have preceded the moment by several hours or months or years, a determinist view sees all events from the beginning of time until the end to be causally connected like links in a chain (cf. Sproul, Invisible Hand). If God has arranged things in such a way that previous events and the choices associated with them cause those that follow and these choices are irresistible, events and choices must be seen as God’s intentional activity. Calvinist Edwin Palmer puts it bluntly as he intones that ‘the Bible is clear: God ordains sin.’ (Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism pp 85, 103, 106)

    To return to the earlier mentioned post that confronts us with a picture of a refugee child being shadowed by a buzzard and the suggestion that this shows the ‘total depravity’ of humankind. As mentioned before many times, the total depravity point of the TULIP has nothing to do with measurement of evil, only that the bond between God and man is so completely wrought that only divine intervention can repair it. Given that, how do we work through Calvin’s system without coming to the conclusion that this scenario was anything but determined from the beginning of time? The Calvinist who thinks about their theology can come to nothing other than a morally reprehensible conclusion about God. Many will attempt the canard of ‘permit but not decree’ but the logic required by the theologian to supportion this notion is so uncomfortably twisted as to lead inevitably back to the previous conclusion.

    Let’s think about our theology and ensure that it matches the whole of God’s revelation. So many times, we claim a theological standard that we have not given sufficient consideration to. This requires that we examine the possibility found in alternative systems before declaring them heretical. We must come to a conclusion: God is the author of sin or God is love.

    Views on Divine Election: Sublapsarian Universalism

    The doctrine of limited atonement (the L in TULIP) states that Christ’s work on the Cross was effectual only for the elect, who in God’s sovereign will were chosen out of the mass of humanity for salvation. This is represented by the infralapsarian and supralapsarian order of decrees. The sublapsarian sequence of decrees broadens the scope of what was accomplished by Jesus Christ through His death. The order of divine decrees reads:

    1. Creation of human beings
    2. Permit the Fall
    3. Provide salvation sufficient for all
    4. Election to salvation and reprobation

    Universalism

    As you notice upon comparing the infralapsarian and supralapsarian decrees, the salvation made possible by Christ was only for the elect. The Universalist searches the whole of Scripture and finds a different idea; that Christ’s work on the cross was sufficient for all people and made effectual upon their exercise of faith. This is the view of an interesting union of Arminians and some Calvinists and it makes the gospel message of John 3:16(-17) come to life:

    For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

    Election, for the universalist, is neither limited nor conditional but is rooted in merciful character of God. As portrayed in the well known passage above, election is an expression of God’s love for the world which is unconstrained in scope and unconditional in application. In other words, the universalist will point out that the New Testament declares that God at a minimum wills or desires the salvation of all humans and is not will that any of them should perish. To link these ideas to scripture:

    This is good, and pleases God our savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

    God’s mercy is fixed in his love, and God is love. Universalism will dispute that God’s love is evidenced by the Augustinian God who separates in His mysteries one from another for salvation. This unconditional election is incompatible with the God of love described by 1 John 4:8-16 whose very essence is love and the object of that love is all the world. The Arminian who is able to thwart God’s desire, thus His plan, is also considered to be incorrect because, though God’s love may be resisted, it cannot be denied or challenged. God does not stop loving those who reject them and this brings Him ever greater glory.

    Conclusion

    Christian universalists believe that, apart from a corporate salvation of the human race as a whole, there is no real grace and no worthwhile salvation for anyone. Limited election replaces mercy with a decree, and an arbitrary one at that, while conditional election grants the human agent who exercises their free will to choose God a kind of moral superiority that outshines God’s grace. To quote Thomas Talbott, “For no power in the universe, not the power of death itself and not even the power of our own recalcitrant wills, can finally ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'” (Rom 8:30)

    Sola Scriptura

    Other Views on Election

    Views on Divine Election: Supralapsarian Calvinism

    Within the Calvinist soteriological discussion, there exists an intramural debate regarding the order of God’s sovereign decrees for redemption and reprobation. Specifically, the question to answered is this, when the decrees of election and reprobation came into being was humankind considered to be fallen or unfallen. In other words, what did God have in view when His decrees were issued. Did He contemplate humankind as collective members of a corrupt, fallen mass or, were they seen as simply as beings that He would create. In the earlier discussion of the traditional Calvinist view, the majority Infralapsarian position was detailed. Briefly, the Latin infra locates the decree for election after the Fall and makes the objects of that decree fallen and corrupt. The complete ordering of decrees (as detailed by Boettner in Reformed Doctrine of Predestination) reads then as:

    1. Creation
    2. Permit the Fall
    3. Election to redemption
    4. Decree the work of Jesus Christ as atonement
    5. Sending of the Holy Spirit for the application of redemption

    Supralapsarianism

    Those who order God’s decrees in a Supralapsarian fashion place the decree to election to redemption and eternal life and reprobation and destruction prior to the Fall. Thus, the reordered decrees would be:

    1. Election of some of the future creation of humankind to life and others to death
    2. Creation
    3. Permit the Fall
    4. Send Christ to redeem the Elect
    5. Send the Holy Spirit to apply the redemption

    With Beza as his teacher, Arminius was exposed to this plan’s ordering and it became one of the primary factors in the development of his theology. He vehemently disputed this idea as, for Arminius, it made God the author of sin and ran completely contrary to His holy character. By placing the discriminating decree in the first position, God exercises His sovereign will to elect humans as humans, not fallen humans.

    The debate between the infralapsarian and supralapsarian positions is very speculative as scripture does not provide an overwhelming body of evidence confirming one side or the other. The choice is largely made along the lines of procedural logic (the rational planning principle.) Placing God’s will over the lives and eternal destinies of His creations in the forefront of all of His succeeding decrees manifests His sovereignty in what some theologians call the greatest example of soli Deo Gloria. They are convinced that this exercise best brings glory to God, the predominant aim exhibited in Scripture for all of God’s activities.

    Other Views on Election

    From Popemobile to Your-Mobile

    The Vatican has issued a set of commandments for drivers in the hope of restoring civility on the highways (more here). The saints behind the wheel are urged to put aside the primitive instincts that rule when we are encased in several thousand pounds of steel rattling along at 70 miles per hour and to allow our noble tendencies to reign this beast in. It will also cause us to examine the base vanity that caused us to buy the car or truck that we now have (or desire).

    Get thee behind me….

    Views on Divine Election: Classical Arminian

    The Arminian view of election is often caricatured or misunderstood by those adhering to alternate views. Many times, the Arminian is portrayed as insisting on taking the glory that rightfully belongs in God alone and in doing so, is attacking or denying the sovereignty of God. As God’s sovereign will plays such a central role in any discussion of election, the necessary first step in examining the Arminian position is to establish how this term is defined within the framework. Picirilli (Grace) offers this succinct definition:

        …if the sovereign God unconditionally established faith as the condition for salvation (and therefore for election), then His sovereignty is not violated when He requires the condition. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian, by “sovereignty,” means that God acts in a way that men call “arbitrary.”

    As Arminius states this same idea,

    The freedom of the goodness of God is declared…when He communicates it only on the condition, which He has been pleased to impose. (Works III:274)

    the requirement that men and women exercise their will to adhere to a condition of their election in no way tampers with the sanctity of God’s sovereign will nor does it lay claim to any of His glory for the human agent who fulfills it.

    Jacobus Arminius did not develop the theological system that bears his moniker out of thin air. Rather, his proclamations derived from his initial following of Calvinist doctrine. He studied in Geneva under Beza, fully accepting of Calvin’s Reformed theology until, while studying in preparation to defend these doctrines, he discovered that his understanding of Scripture did not support the same. The general theme of difference that moved Arminius was that he felt that God’s revealed character did not the Supralapsarian predestination of some to destruction as a part of the eternal decrees. This, he felt, made God the author of sin and was contrary to the God of love revealed through Christ. Arminius insisted on a soteriology that was thoroughly Christocentric.

    Election in the Arminian framework can be either to service (e.g. Pharaoh in Rom 9:17, Israel corporately) as a vessel or agent through which can bring about this desired end, or to salvation as previously discussed in the Calvinist view. Many disagreements between the Calvinist and the Arminian on Scripture interpretation locate around this critical differentiation. For purposes of brevity, election to salvation is in view in this essay and this election is conditional.

    Conditional Election

    The most pronounced difference between the two systems in view is the belief of Arminians in conditional election that is rooted in the foreknowledge of God. This prescient foreknowledge is God’s eternal view of his creatures and the knowledge of how each of them will respond to the offer of grace by placing their faith in Christ. Thus, their election from eternity past is conditioned upon their free-will acceptance of God’s predetermined conditions for salvation. It is this human effort that is often pictured as a challenge to God’s sovereign will since, being rooted in human free-will, it can be resisted.

    Scripture: Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:1-2

    Total Depravity

    Classical Arminian theology teaches that all of humanity is born morally and spiritually depraved, that is, they are helpless to do anything good in God’s view without an infusion of God’s grace sufficient to overcome this stillborn nature. Arminius writes:

    In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. (Works 2:192)

    The grace that is visited upon God’s elect is known in Arminian terminology as prevenient grace. This grace is infused by the Holy Spirit and it prepares the soul for entrance into an initial state of salvation. Prevenient grace brings the dead in sin back to life and enables their will such that a man or woman may make the free-will decision to accept or deny the salvific act of the Lord Jesus Christ. Full regeneration is achieved when this decision, empowered by the Spirit, results in repentance and faith.

    Scripture: John 6:44, Jeremiah 31:3

    Conclusion

    Classical Arminian theology is often lumped together with Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian thought leading to mis-characterization of the reality of the framework. The major difference that separates Arminius from Calvin has to do with the conditionality of God’s divine election. Arminius found in Scripture, not a God of imposition, but a God of unbridled love for his creation who, seeing into the eternal future who would respond favorably to His offer of grace, elected those to salvation while allowing others to choose perdition.

    Soli Deo gloria

    Other Views on Election