Theological “election” deals with God’s choices. For instance, the Bible refers to an election of:
- Christ (Isaiah 42:1; Luke 9:35; 1st Peter 2:6)
- National Israel (Deuteronomy 7:6; Isaiah 45:4)
- Jerusalem (1st Kings 11:13)
- Disciples (John 13:18; John 15:16)
- Christians (Ephesians 1:1-3; 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-14)
In Calvinism, election is labeled as Unconditional Election, in terms of God having decreed a total plan of all things from eternity, which includes a bifurcation of humanity into elect and non-elect camps, that is, fixed classes of sheep and goats. Individuals comprising the elect camp are unconditionally chosen by God for salvation prior to the Genesis creation, the basis of which being known only to Him, while the non-elect camp comprises those whom God never intended to spend eternity with Him in Heaven and thus passed by for salvific graces.
In non-Calvinism, election is labeled as Conditional Election, in which there are primarily two different views:
- The Wesleyan-Arminian “foresight of faith” model of Election and,
- the Corporate model of Election.
In the Wesleyan model, by God’s eternal foreknowledge, all whom He found that will ever positively respond to the gospel and persevere in the faith, He foreordained as members of “the elect.”
As for the Corporate model, the foundation is that Jesus Christ is the Elect One, resulting that all who come to be “in Him,” that is, identified with Him in His body and as His bride, jointly share in His election, and hence believers in Him may rightly also be called “the elect” or favored. In other words, Corporate Election is a class election of Christ’s family, and for His part, He would like to see everyone in it, which He made possible at Calvary.
Comparing and contrasting, Election in Calvinism means God choosing unbelievers, that is, of the elect kind, unto the gift of faith. Election in non-Calvinism means God choosing Christians, that is, unto salvation, service and blessings. Does God choose us or do we choose God? The answer is that God chooses to show His favor on Christians and we choose whether or not to become a Christian.
What do Calvinists believe?
The doctrine of Unconditional Election should not be thought of as God keeping people out of Heaven. Rather, it should be considered as God getting people into Heaven, albeit a predetermined and fixed number, though if God had not done this, then none would be saved.
Unconditional Election certainly would keep people out of the Kingdom of Heaven because if God pre-temporally intended for only some people to be unconditionally elect, then it logically follows that God did not intend for others to be unconditionally elect, and that begs the question of what would be intended for these others, and the Calvinist answer is that they would be born to ultimately glorify God in Hell, by providing God the means with which to demonstrate His various attributes, inclusive of justice and wrath. Moreover, if none would be saved apart from Unconditional Election, then that would be a factor of the total plan of God in having decreed that mankind would be born helpless and hopeless, under the inherited guilt of Adam. So, Calvinism’s decree is what would ensure that none could be saved apart from Unconditional Election.
In Arminianism, God chose us because we first chose Him, while in Calvinism, we choose God because He first chose us.
God’s disposition is that He desires everyone to come to know Him, but He won’t force anyone to believe in Him.
What do Calvinists believe?
R.C. Sproul: “Conditional election is usually based on God’s foreknowledge of human actions and responses. This is often called the prescient view of election or predestination. The term prescience or pre-science simply refers to foreknowledge. The idea is that from all eternity God looks down the tunnel of time and knows in advance who will respond to the gospel positively and who will not. He knows in advance who will exercise faith and who will not. On the basis of this prior knowledge, God chooses some.”108
Calvinists who argue against Conditional Election, often make the Wesleyan “Foresight of Faith” model their primary target, perhaps because they feel that it is an easy, low-hanging fruit. They’ll say something like, “He foreknew by looking ahead into the future to discover what was going to happen, and when He learned who was going to respond positively to the gospel, He chose them as His people. He elected them because of the choice He knew they would make.” By contrast, the “Corporate” model deals with Election in a totally different way. Rather than focusing on how someone becomes in Christ, it focuses on all that comes with being in Christ, in terms of all that God has predestined in Christ, namely, service and blessings.
Corporate Election is Christocentric, while Calvinism’s doctrine f Unconditional Election is Patricentric. In other words, whereas the focus of Corporate Election is on all that God intended to accomplish in Christ, the focus of Unconditional Election is on all those whom the Father secretly chose to someday be irresistibly converted to become Christians. So, as you can clearly see, both doctrines have a starkly different function. In other words, in Calvinism, God unconditionally determines the identity of His elect and then effectually draws them to believe in Christ. Corporate Election instead deals with what God predestined in Christ, such as giving Christians redemption, an inheritance and a future home in Heaven.
Corporate Election involves an impersonal plan, and which is tantamount to the election of an empty-set, rather than being a personalized plan whereby God selects exactly who will be His sheep.
Corporate Election does not address how someone comes to be in Christ but instead deals with God’s eternal purposes for those who are in Christ. In other words, God didn’t elect who would be in Christ. Rather, He elected Christ as the One who we all needed to be in. Although God certainly knows ahead of time who will become Christians, that doesn’t mean that He predetermined who would be found in Christ. As such, the Corporate model seems to be more accommodating to Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Feast of Matthew 22:1-14, in terms of its open invitation to all, versus Calvinism’s pre-established set of future converts.
What determines whether someone is elect? Is it God who chooses His sheep, or do individuals choose to elect themselves?
We don’t choose to elect ourselves. Rather, we choose whether or not to join ourselves to the already Elect One, Jesus Christ, who offers Himself freely to whosoever will: “‘And you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.’” (John 5:40) So, Jesus does not exclude people, but rather, people only exclude themselves from joining the Elect One.
What do Calvinists believe?
“From a Reformed perspective, how does one handle the divine imperatives, such as ‘repent and believe’ if one truly has no choice in the matter of salvation?”109
The question is the answer, as one does have the ability and opportunity to repent and believe. Calvinists simply assume the opposite, in that God has created a class of the “non-elect” who are born helpless and hopeless. So, Calvinists simply assume the rightfulness of their own paradigm, and then progress in their logic from their circular perspective. In other words, what if God didn’t create a class of the non-elect and, as such, everyone can repent, believe and be saved, and will ultimately be held accountable for failing to do so when they had their opportunity and squandered it?
In Calvinism, God chooses unbelievers to believe, whom He created as part of an “elect” class. (The criticism, then, is that in Calvinism, God creates “yes men” through irresistible means.) By contrast, in non-Calvinism, God chooses believers to receive eternal life, having never created anyone to be born in an alleged “non-elect” class.
106 The Doctrines That Divide (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 192.
107 The point of qualifying a “New Covenant” context is because under the Old Covenant, Israel remains God’s elect people, chosen as God’s witness nation, all while currently being subject to a partial hardening, as per Romans 11:25, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
108 What is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997), 142.
109 Does God choose us or do we choose God?, 2:57-3:08. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdZKabg2ZNY