Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Calvinism and its problems. Today we will be talking about Unconditional Election, the “U” of TULIP. What is the definition of Unconditional Election? The Calvinistic definition of Unconditional Election according to Wayne Grudem is this:
“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”(here)
This definition sounds good and all but it also applies that God intentionally “passes” over some people “not on account of any foreseen [dis]merit in them”. This is known as God predestining some people to eternal damnation.
Is predestination taught in the bible? Yes and no. Romans 8:29 says:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”(ESV)
Calvinistic thinking has so infected our thinking that many stumble over this passage and very, very few people (Calvinists included) can explain it clearly in context.
First thing to note is the order. “Those whom he foreknew” is before “he also predestined”. Whom did he foreknow? We find the answer in the previous verse, Romans 8:28:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.“
This verse (Romans 8:28-29) is to comfort those who love God that all things will work together for their good, that they are, as having accepted God’s love, predestined to become conformed to his image. Often in their brains, people will mix up and paraphrase the order to read something like this:
“For those he predestined he also foreknew and destined them to be conformed to the image of his son” etc.
But based on the text, this is talking not about God predestining you to salvation, but him predestining all who accept his salvation to be conformed to the image of his son. God is all-knowing, but he does give us free will. Because he is present in all places in time and on earth all at once, in the future, the past, and the present simultaneously he knows what we will choose.
There is a wonderful analogy to help us wrap our brains around God predestining those whom he foreknew. Imagine a plane is predestined by the director of the flights to fly from Chicago to New York. The tickets are available for free, however you have to go and pick them up yourself. There is more than enough room for everyone to fit in the plane and limitless available tickets. However, the particular people who decide to except the tickets and go on the predestined route are not predestined to ride the plane. Also imagine that the person directing the flights knew that a particular person was going to ride the plane. He would knew who was going to decide to accept the ride on the plane and he predestined anyone who would accept the ride on the plane to go from Chicago to New York. He did not predestine the people who rode the plane to get on the plane. He did not irresistibly force the tickets into their hands and force them by predestination and irresistible grace onto the plane. We will talk more about Irresistible Grace, the “I” in TULIP later.
Hopefully, that analogy helped. But does scripture teach Unconditional Election? If we look in scripture, we see that it does indeed show Unconditional Election, just not in the way that Calvinists teach it.
A great example of Unconditional Election is shown in the Parable of the Wedding Feast.
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.
And here we come to the first example of divine choice: the choice of the servants who where given the task sending out the invitation. The word “Elect” means “choice” so this is an example of God unconditionally choosing.
Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Here is the second example of God Unconditionally Electing: the choice of sending the invitation first to his unconditionally chosen people. The Bible speaks much about his love towards his people Israel. In the Old Testament God did lay down guidelines for those who wished to be part of Israel and feared him (For instance Rahab).
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Here is the third example of how God unconditionally chooses: the choice of unconditionally inviting both good and bad.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Finally the fourth example of God unconditionally choosing: the choice to allow only those clothed in proper wedding garments to enter the feast.
The last sentence of the verse can be confusing. It says “For many are called, but few are chosen”. This verse doesn’t make sense in the Calvinist view either. From what I understand of 5-point Calvinist is that they believe that God only calls those whom he knows will be saved or “chosen”. If called and chosen are completely synonymous, then this verse would be a complete contradiction. I found a great explanation on bible hub of this verse here. Also note there are some parts I don’t quite agree with.
Many are called, but few are chosen – Our Saviour often uses this expression. It was probably proverbial. The Jews had been called, but few of them had been chosen to life. The great mass of the nation was wicked, and they showed by their lives that they were not chosen to salvation. The Gentiles also were invited to be saved, Isaiah 45:22. Nation after nation has been called; but few, few have yet showed that they were real Christians, the elect of God.
This verse could either mean #1: God calls all, but not all show themselves as the chosen, or #2 God calls all, but not all choose him as a result of his calling.
Both Calvinists and Traditionalists believe in Unconditional Election. Just not in the same way. Traditionalists believe that the gospel is sufficient to save, that anyone and everyone has the capability to accept the gift of salvation. Five-point Calvinists believe because we has Total Depravity, that salvation requires not just the gospel, but that God drags with Irresistible Grace those whom he chooses to be saved. But I believe that the gospel is sufficient to save, that the empowering of the Holy Spirit is enough to enable a man to choose Christ.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
If God desires all people to be saved why would he “pass over” some of them when he could have saved them? God is more glorified by giving his creatures free will to choose him for themselves. Here is a quote by A. W. Tozer:
“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God
The “elect” in my opinion are “those who have [already] obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
Thank you for reading! If you have more questions on Calvinism and it’s alternatives I suggest going to Soteriology 101. Much of my analogies and points in this article were taken from Dr. Leighton Flowers’ work. The article from which I got the points on the Parable of the Wedding Feast is here.
One last point I would like to make. The issue of Calvinism has greatly affected the unity of the church, in that it has stirred up endless controversies and arguments (Titus 3:9). It has also caused many to doubt God and his great love for all people, often serving as a stumbling block for those who are weak in the faith (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). There are great blessings in discussing scripture with other believers (Proverbs 27:17) and we should use scripture to teach, reprove, correct, and train (2 Timothy 3:16). However, when discussing scripture, we need to be humble and gracious, in order that we may be built up (Proverbs 15:2, 1 Peters 5:5). We don’t have to have perfect theology to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you!
“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
-Ephesians 1:4b-10 (ESV)