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


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

Views on Divine Election: Traditional Calvinist

The key to understanding the Calvinist notion of divine election rests in shielding the sovereignty of God from any effectual interference by humankind. Election to salvation is rooted purely in the sovereign grace of God and it is unconditional in every aspect; it does not rely in any way on the behavior, belief, or action of the man or woman on which it is visited. Calvin says:

We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. (Institutes III, xxi, 1)

Calvin is quoted in a different context restating this principle a bit more starkly:

Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he hath determined in himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind…eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for other. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestined to life or to death. (Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature ‘Calvinism’)

The Calvinist view of election has three facets; it is unconditional, individual, and infralapsarian, and scriptural references abound in support of each of these ideas. When election is referenced in this discussion, the Calvinist has in view a salvific election, one that produces salvation from perdition. This is an important but often overlooked distinction because theology also recognizes that there is an election to service and many theological disagreements balance on the recognition of this fine point. Careful exegesis is required then when stating unequivocally that one’s theological position is absolute; remember, context must always be considered when referring to a single verse in support of a tenet. Let’s look at each of the facets on their own.

Election is Unconditional

The U in TULIP represents election as unconditional; God graciously elected some to be saved according to His sovereign will without respect to their individual qualities, characters, or choices. This means that the choice was not conditioned on something that humans would do or the choices they would make, their behavior (good or bad) or any unique characteristic that might separate them from those who are bound by their sin and headed to perdition. Unconditional election is forwarded as the position that brings the greatest glory to God. Because salvation requires no human agency from start to finish God appropriately receives all of the glory for the transaction.

Scripture: Eph 1:3-6, Rom 9:10-16, John 17:2,6

Election is Individual

Election to salvation is done on an individual basis by God, bypassing one while selecting the next. While scripture speaks of God choosing a people, the Church, or a bride, this election is composed of the collective individuals who are recipients of His grace. This deeply theological concept contributes in a much greater sense than just scholastically. The joy that the recipient feels is heightened by the idea that God the Father has elected them as an individual. They are not a faceless part of the whole but a known entity to the God of the universe.

Scripture: John 6:37, Acts 13:48

Election is Infralapsarian

The question that remains in examining the Calvinist view of election has to do with the timing, or sequence of God’s decrees. The matter to be answered is when did God decree that salvation would be granted to the elect, before or after the decree to allow the Fall. Calvinist theologians can indicate disagreement on this point, some leaning toward Supralapsarian timing while others take the Infralapsarian view. The orders of each are:

Supralapsarianism (Decree of Salvation/Reprobation precedes the decree to allow the Fall)

  • The decree to save some and condemn others
  • The decree to create both the elect and the reprobate
  • The decree to permit the Fall of both classes
  • The decree to provide salvation only for the elect


  • The decree to create human beings
  • The decree to permit the Fall
  • The decree to save some and condemn others
  • The decree to provide salvation only for the elect

Of the two, the dominant position through Calvinist history has been the Infralapsarian position though the issue is often left in an indefinite state that allows for a melding of the two positions. Once again, the theological desire to protect the sovereignty and the moral integrity of God is foremost in the conduct of this intramural argument. When searching the Scriptures for support, an important cue to remember is that when election to salvation is seen, it must logically follow that the need for that election is driven by a humankind that requires saving.

Scripture: Acts 13:48, Rom 8:29-30


The unconditional nature of election to salvation is key to the entire Calvinist theological framework. When contrasting this system with others, much of the debate hinges, knowingly or unknowingly on understanding the true positions of competing theologies with regard to election. It is incumbent upon us then to glorify God through our devotion to proper scholarship before engaging in any form of definitive declaration as to the validity or illegitimacy of positions not our own.

Solus Christus

Other Views on Election

Calvinism & Arminianism: Election 2007

The sotereological frameworks of Calvin and Arminius have been widely debated since their codification and there remains today an ongoing kerfuffle, especially in hyperventilated world of the blogosphere where anonymity often shields the purveyors of ideas from having to support them by examining their underpinnings. The positions taken are often of the ‘I’m right because my beliefs are beyond challenge’ sort and any engagement usually degenerates (with proper Christian faux-humility – e.g. ‘forgive me for disagreeing’, ‘we pray you’ll come to understand your error’, etc.) into disagreement without adequate consideration of the opposing position. What I often discover being left out of these C&A spats is any discussion of one of the fundamental differences between the two schools of thought, the concept of election. Because an understanding of divine election is so critical to being an educated participant in the debate, my contribution to the conversation will be to outline the different positions that are taken, starting with the classical Calvinist and Arminian positions.

God is glorified and our faith enriched when we all contribute to the conversation and I would encourage anyone who has something to add to do so. That said, I have but one requirement and that would be that sources and citations be included with your statements. This helps all who read the threads to follow up and explore our points further AND it prevents us from furthering mythological positions that have no actual support. As an example, the Arminian position is often misrepresented on several points. For one, there is a meme that winds up in many posts that states Arminian theology as seeing humankind as less than totally depraved. Though it is completely untrue, this idea is passed from person to person without any real effort made to discover whether or not it is correctly representative of the theology. This lack of scholarship is not glorifying when discussing the matters of God.

So, on with the show…