Excursion on Election

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Where in the bible is it stated that one’s election is based on an eternal decree? That question led Arminius as well as subsequent Arminians to question the Calvinistic theory of election. McGonigie stated,

    Our election is in Christ, not in God’s so-called ‘hidden’ purposes or in secret prelapsarian decrees. God loves the world of sinners in His Son and all His plans for our salvation, Arminius never tired of emphasizing, are in the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of his beloved Son . . . God is known to us in the revelation of His Son Jesus Christ, and all our salvation is grounded, guaranteed and offered to us, and to all mankind, in the finished and still ongoing work, of our blessed Redeemer. Evangelical theology needs to give far more attention than it has previously done to James Arminius’ theology of grace . . .1

As Donna Bowman has noted,

    Reformed dogmatics maintains that only a God who has no need for the world — who would have been no less complete and perfect existing alone throughout eternity — can act with true freedom in God’s voluntary relations with the world that God contingently created. The gratuity of election is interpreted to mean that even the existence of creatures to be elected cannot be postulated a priori. For God’s election to be truly an act of grace, God must not be moved to elect by any necessarily existing creation.2

Someone may ask, “If Arminians believe that election is based on one’s relationship to Christ Jesus and not on an eternal decree, then how does one interpret Ephesians 1.4?” That is a worthy question.

Paul wrote, “For he [that is, God] chose us in him [that is, Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1.4). The purpose for this choosing was not that a person was “to be” in him, that is, Christ Jesus, for that is not what Paul wrote. The purpose of God’s decision was that a person is “to be” holy and blameless in his sight. How is this accomplished? It is accomplished only by being “in him,” that is, in Christ Jesus.

The text does not read, “For he chose us to be in him before the foundation of the world, holy and blameless in his sight.” It reads, “For he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The difference is paramount.

Thus God chose that we who are in Christ Jesus would stand before him holy and blameless because of what Jesus accomplished, and through our faith and union in him, that being the result of His grace. This decision was made before the foundation of the world: all who would be in Christ would stand before God holy and blameless. Election is in Christ, not an eternal decree.

If God is to declare Himself all-loving and omni-benevolent (all-good), then electing some to hell (worse case scenario), or even passing over many people (not choosing to save them) is, according to Arminianism, not a display of an all-loving, omni-benevolent being.

Calvinist Richard A. Muller wrote,

    This relationship of the divine love to the divine goodness has profound ramifications for the whole of theology, particularly for the doctrines of creation, providence, and predestination. The priority of love over goodness with respect to the divine object and of goodness over love with respect to the created object establishes an ordering of the divine decrees according to which God primarily loves and wills his own goodness, secondarily wills and loves all things in himself as they arise from the communication of his goodness, and, as a result orders all good things toward himself as their goal, the summum bonum. This is not only the logic of Arminius’ doctrine of the divine goodness in its creative self-communication, it is also the logic of Aquinas’ doctrine of predestination . . .3

Election is solely in Christ Jesus. Without Christ Jesus and outside of union with Him, there is no election. Thus those who are in Christ are elect. They are not elect because God decided to save them as opposed to many others. God’s offer of salvation by grace through faith in Christ is genuinely extended to all who hear the gospel.

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1 Herbert Boyd McGonigle, “Foreward,” F. Stuart Clarke, The Ground of Election: Jacob Arminius’ Doctrine of the Work and Person of Christ (Waynesboro: Paternoster, 2006), xii-xiii.

2 Donna Bowman, The Divine Decision (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 124.

3 Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Though of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 194.