Many Arminians see God’s election of individuals as based on God’s foreknowledge of faith. They see that primary election passages make reference to foreknowledge and even suggest that election is based on foreknowledge. They also see that faith is the primary condition for salvation found in the Bible. One is saved, and therefore elected, by faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Arminians see foreknowledge as prescience of the free will decision to trust in Christ. Arminians also see foreknowledge as prescience because that is exactly what the word means, prior knowledge.
Calvinists object and see God’s foreknowledge with regards to salvation as fore-loving. That is, Calvinists believe that when the Bible speaks of foreknowledge as it relates to salvation, it is speaking of God loving His elect before hand. They argue that “know” equals “love.” They find support for this in the use of the Hebrew word “know” in the OT since it is often used of very intimate, even sexual knowledge.
But there is more that the Calvinist objects to. The Calvinist also believes that God cannot foreknow free will decisions. That is, God can only foreknow what He has decreed to do. God foreknows what He himself will make happen. He knows His infallible plan and intentions and therefore has perfect knowledge of all that will come to pass. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge is based on His eternal decree. If this is the case then predestination comes before foreknowledge, which would seem to reverse the order given in the Bible. Foreknowledge would then be “according to” predestined election instead of election being “according to foreknowledge” as the Bible declares (1 Peter 1:2).
It should also be noted that many Arminians, including Arminius himself, would not object to foreknowledge in certain passages as having reference to fore-loving. In Rom. 8:29 for instance, they would say that God “foreknew/loved” believers. In other words, God does not simply foreknow the act of faith, but rather foreknows and fore-loves “believers”, those who have come to be in union with Christ through faith in Him. So the Calvinist insistence that foreknowledge refers not to faith but to individuals does not refute the Arminian understanding of salvation and election by faith in Jesus Christ according to foreknowledge.
There is another view that should be briefly mentioned. Many Arminians hold to a primarily corporate view of election and do not see the need to appeal so strongly to foreknowledge in order to understand election as conditional (though foreknowledge does have a place in the corporate view). This view maintains that Christ is the “elect One” and those who come to be in Him through faith are then “the elect.” Election is primarily the electing of a corporate body “in Christ.” There is much more that could be said about this view (which is the view of election that I hold), but it is not important for the purposes of this post.
Given the way that Calvinists understand foreknowledge I am led to wonder just how God “fore-loves” the elect as they claim. It makes sense in Arminianism to say that God fore-loves believers in union with Christ, but does it makes sense to say such things in light of Calvinistic pre-suppositions regarding foreknowledge? I wonder what exactly it is that God fore-loves if Calvinism is the Biblical theology?
I see this as a problem for two reasons. First, if God only foreknows things because He first decrees them, then He does not fore-love actual people. He only has a plan or intention of creating people to show love to. These people do not exist except in the mind of God. They are nothing more than a concept. Therefore God does not fore-love the elect prior to creation, but only plans to love some of those that He plans to create. This is not the case in Arminianism because God is not bound by time and can have perfect knowledge and love of believers in union with Christ as actual people who presently exist to Him, even if they have not yet actually been created.
Thomas R. Schreiner argues against a corporate view of election in Still Sovereign. Unfortunately, Schreiner does not fully understand the view he sets out to criticize. He thinks that advocates of corporate election believe that God elects an “abstract entity or a concept.” But as stated earlier this is not what Arminian advocates of corporate election believe, unless Schreiner feels comfortable calling Christ an “abstract entity and a concept.” However, Schreiner seems to find the notion that God would elect a “concept” as rather bothersome:
- The problem with [the corporate] view, however, is that the church is not an abstract entity or a concept. It is made up of people. Indeed the biblical text makes it clear again and again that election involves the selection of people, not a concept (Still Sovereign, pg. 102).
We would have to agree. God elected people. God elected “believers” for salvation. He did not elect certain sinners to become believers as Calvinism asserts. But I wonder how Schreiner’s view is much different than the view he misunderstands and criticizes. Does not his view have God electing mere “concepts” in the mind of God? Sure, they may not be “abstract” concepts, but they are still just concepts. They are just a plan in the mind of God and have no existence outside of God’s intentions to bring them into existence at some point in history.
Second, we might ask just what exactly God loved about the “elect?” In Arminianism God fore-loves believers with electing love because they are in His “beloved one.” They are loved and elected in Christ as “believers” in Him and for His sake. God has a special love for those who trust in and rely on Him, those who are in special relationship with Him through the reconciliation of Christ’s blood and the obedience produced by faith:
- Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching…As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 14:21, 23-24; 15:9-10)
This is not the case in Calvinism. Rather, God elects potential personal “concepts” to be put into Christ without any regard to anything in them or about them at all. So just what is it that God loves about them prior to their union with Christ? It cannot be that they bear His image or because they are a special and cherished creation, because God will create far more image bearers for the sole purpose of eternal destruction. His love seems arbitrary and meaningless. Why does God love one and not the other? What makes them differ? Nothing, according to Calvinism, so what does God love? It seems to me that if what Calvinism asserts is true then God’s love is very hollow. Our claim to be loved by God amounts to little more than the lucky draw of a divine lottery. It is impersonal and carries very little meaning. It is not tied into relationship with His Son or the desire to save all of His fallen creatures. Rather, it is little more than a decision to favor and save a “concept” that will eventually be made real.
It is hard to understand how it is even a choice since there is nothing really to choose if the supposed choice was made only in the mind and plan of God prior to creation. God did not “elect” anyone. He merely planned to create some for hell and some for heaven, and this without respect to anything in them or about them. In fact there was no “them” at all; just a plan or concept. Is that truly the electing love that is described in the Bible?
So what does God love if Calvinistic predestination and election be true? At the very least I think we can conclude that the Arminian view does not de-personalize election but rather emphasizes the personal aspects of foreknowledge and election. We may further conclude that the Calvinistic conception of foreknowledge may actually serve to undermine any personal aspect of election and render God’s “love” for His “elect” as rather cold and empty.