Home > The Doctrines of Grace > The Doctrines of Grace: Unconditional Election, Part 1

The Doctrines of Grace: Unconditional Election, Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of Unconditional Election!

Let’s get right down to business. Today I will seek to give you a brief history of the doctrine and a definition, similar to what I did with Part 1 of Total Depravity.

Okay, let’s start with a definition.

Dictionary.com defines election as the right, power, or privilege of making a choice. Yes, it gives other definitions, but this seems to be the heart of the definitions listed. So election in this case refers to “the right, power, or privilege of divine choice.”

Further, unconditional is defined as 1) Without conditions or limitations; absolute; 2) not contingent; not determined or influenced by someone or something else. In other words, unconditional means “totally free.”

So, to give a basic definition, what we are looking at here in this doctrine is the right, power, or privilege of God to make a choice that is totally free; that is, a completely objective, uninfluenced decision.

Now, let’s look at the history of the doctrine. Thanks to Prof. Chad Brand covering this doctrine in his Systematic Theology III class.

The Apostolic Fathers do not really discuss grace in the formative years after Christ and the apostles. This is because the biggest challenge the church faced at this time was Gnosticism. Any discussion of election and predestination would have encountered this heresy. Gnosticism taught that only by learning the secret knowledge of God could a person attain redemption. It would have been very easy for Gnostics to seize upon the doctrine of election to support their cause (For example, they could have said, “God has chosen certain individuals for salvation. Let us strive to learn this secret knowledge and as such be redeemed.”) So as such election is not given much attention by the early Fathers.

It fell to Augustine in his Anti-Pelagian Writings to begin systematizing election. His work was again in response to the heretic monk Pelagius.

Pelagius, along with Julian of Eclanum apparently believed salvation is by “human monergism.” Monergism means “one energy/action;” thus Pelagius declared salvation is by human ability. Augustine, on the other hand, believed Scripture taught that salvation is indeed through monergism or ability, but that ability is of divine origin, not human. People are saved by God’s action alone from beginning to end. And as such salvation begins with God’s election of those who will be saved.

Augustine believed that the default position for humanity is hell (massa perdita, or the mass of those damned), and God chooses certain ones from this group to be saved. This is why God does not choose to save all–the Bible says clearly that some are going to hell. Further, he also posits the concept of gemina praedestinatio, or “double predestination,” which holds that out of the mass of humanity, God chooses one group for salvation and the rest for hell. But Augustine for whatever reason did not go completely into a double predestination view.

Unfortunately, as noted in Part 1 of Total Depravity, after Augustine the Church fell into semi-Pelagianism. Election became dependent (contingent) on human ability. To summarize, semi-Pelagianism holds the principle of facere quod in se est, or doing your best. If you always do your best despite your sins, God will accept you. This is the source of the popular belief that if we do our best and live good lives, striving to be good people, then God will allow us into Heaven when we die.

When the Reformation dawned, Martin Luther made himself the bane of semi-Pelagianism. This heresy is described as the issue over which the Reformation was fought. Luther wrote a book against Desiderius Erasmus (which unfortunately I do not have the name of) in which he asserted that humans in their natural state do not have free will. Recognize that? That’s total depravity. As such, humans are nothing more than donkeys (though Luther used a less endearing word–think of your gluteus maximus) that are being ridden. Either God is riding the donkey or Satan is. And of course, either God is in control of the donkey’s fate or we’re all heretics. So Luther did hold that God completely controls who will be saved and who will be damned. But election was not Luther’s chief concern.

John Calvin is the one who brings election and predestination to the foreground. In his work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he taught that election is unconditional, individual, and unto salvation. That means that God objectively chooses individuals for salvation. He also held that God also objectively chooses individuals for damnation–Augustine’s gemina praedestinatio. As such, because God objectively elects, divine election is dependent solely on God’s sovereign good pleasure, not on anything in the individual, including the individual’s sin. God is riding the donkey, and He alone chooses whether the donkey rides into Jerusalem or is cast into the valley of Gehenna to be burned.

The Arminians (especially John Wesley), however, held that election is based on foreseen faith. God in His foreknowledge of things to come saw who would believe in Christ and as such chose those individuals. God is not the arbiter (the one who decides) of salvation, rather the individual is. As such election is not a call to salvaton, but a call to a work, a call to a decision. In a statement, in Arminian election God chooses some people to make a decision to accept Christ or not, based on His foreseeing who would respond affirmatively to the Gospel call. God is completely dependent on individual sinners in election.

The Synod of Dort summarized Calvin’s teaching on election in response to the Remonstrants (Arminians). I have summarized it as such in the Prologue:

God chooses people for salvation solely by His own good pleasure, not because of any condition foreseen in the individual. One could rightly say that this is “Arbitrary Election.” This is not to impugn the doctrine but to underscore that there is nothing that influences God to choose some and damn others but His own purposes and plans. Faith in Christ is not the cause of election but rather the result. As so, those chosen (elected) by God are called the elect.

This is what the Calvinist and Reformed view of election has been ever since. Much thought and writing has been given to the workings of this doctrine since, but Reformed thinkers generally hold to this definition of election.

So, then, unconditional election refers to the right, power, or privilege of God to make a choice that is totally free–that is, a completely objective, uninfluenced decision–of some individuals to salvation and others to damnation, and that choice dependent only on the good pleasure of His will and not on anything seen in the individual.

Whew, this was long. Join us this weekend when we get into the biblical support and implications!

  1. February 19, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Gee. What a blog.

    I guess you haven’t heard about the errors of the Apostolic Fathers. They were wrong about the nature of the Earth, it’s not flat and imobile. They were wrong about the Jews (the Jews did not kill Christ). They were wrong about the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit are essentially different). They were wrong about initiating women (see the story of the Samaritan woman at the well).

    Given all of those blatant errors, why should we trust them on something as important as salvation. You’re barking up the wrong tree. Check out the Pythagorean school. They scored correctly on all of the things the Apostlic Fathers failed on. Pythagorean salvation is far more effective than the deceptions of Apostolic error.

  2. February 20, 2006 at 12:42 am

    Nice. Got any evidence to back up any of that helium? Specifically evidence that can be verified from Scripture?

  3. February 21, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Let’s see. What does scripture say about the rotating, spherical earth? Earth is a celestial sphere. It’s not in scripture. Does that mean that scripture is wrong? Or, that the Earth is not a celestial sphere simply because scripture makes a distinction between heaven and earth?

    How about the Jews being responsible for the crucifixion. The way the story reads, it was the Sanhedrin, not the Jews who prosecuted Christ for his blasphemous heresy. At least there, we do have scriptural evidence. Also, there are the multiple pointers that Christ went willingly to the cross.

    Scriptural evidence for the essential differences between Father, Son, and Spirit? Well, if we look at the pseudo-evidence that supposedly supported the other position, Athanasius deliberately misquoted Proverbs 8:22 in order to justify his position. For one thing, he changed the gender from feminine to masculine.

    Basil admitted the essential difference between Father, Son, and Spirit. He used the word “hypostasis” to identify the difference.

    If you seek a scriptural justification for theft and murder, look at the story of Cain and Abel. Cain worships a jealous god. Given the vicious history of the Trinity, the trinitarian god smells more like the god of Cain than the god of Abel.

    As for initiating women, I already cited the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

    As for Pythagorean salvation, there is scriptural evidence in the story of Jacob’s ladder.

  4. February 27, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Okay, I’ll ignore the fact that you don’t even try to explain what your way of salvation is to begin with. I’ll also ignore the fact that this discussion has nothing to do with the topic in question.

    But I will stop only to note that you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. Your understanding of Christian theology is terrible. You don’t quote any real sources to back up your assertions (all of which, as I’ve noted, are totally unrelated to the topic at hand). Oh wait, you quote none whatsoever.

    You display a woeful lack of understanding of Trinitarian theology, which in and of itself is equal to a year’s worth of blogposts. You echo the Arian heresy in attacking Athanasius, yet you don’t seem to understand that Arius’ position basically ends up denying passages like the first chapter of John.

    You also display a lack of understanding of the concept of covenant identity which was prevalent at the time of Jesus and Paul. Corporate Israel is guilty of killing Jesus – the religious leaders represent the people before God, don’t they?

    Basil also used the word ousia to emphasize that the three are not separate entities. In fact he wrote a whole letter on this issue in order that others “would not fall into the same error.”

    I have no idea where you’re going with this “spherical earth isn’t in Scripture” silliness. It does not prove or disprove your position nor does it the Bible. A spherical earth is, incidentally, hinted at in the story of Hezekiah’s illness in 2 Kings 20:1-11. Some say this is a hint of a shift in the Earth’s axis.

    I also have no idea why you’re picking Cain and Abel as an example of your incorrect understanding of the theology of the Bible, nor what initiating women has to do with this discussion.

    Furthermore, there’s no discussion of salvation in the story of Jacob’s ladder. This story is the continuance of the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob. You’ll have to try again.

    On second thought, don’t. You’re a troll, and you’ve got no interest in the discussion at hand. Further off-topic comments by you will be deleted.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: