Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why I Believe In Unconditional Election

          I suppose the short answer to my title would be that unconditional election is Scriptural, but I am not interested in being coy. This is a serious subject, and worthy of a stronger intellect than my own, though I still offer my own simplistic understanding in the hopes that it will lead some to a deeper understanding of and love for this doctrine. Though it seems unnecessary, in view of my opinions on our subject matter, I wish to make clear at the beginning that my theological predilection is Reformed. In light of this, I am assuming that anyone reading this is at least open to the discussion of election and willing to read the opinions of a lowly Calvinist layman. That being said, I will not make any inflammatory remarks, and I will brook no inflammatory comments. Let our discussion as Christians be marked by the humility of our Savior and the great saints that have come before us, and speak to one another softly and in love.
           Let us dispense with these introductory remarks and get to the weighty subject before us. First, let me define what I mean when I say "unconditional election". Unconditional election is the biblical doctrine stating that God has chosen who will be saved from the beginning of the world, not based on any meritorious conduct or worth, but based only on His loving, holy, perfect will. This is not a popular doctrine, and indeed has never been. From the Pelagian heresy that St. Augustine so famously opposed and debunked to the relatively more modern teachings of Arminianism, it has been vigourously opposed, be it from the standpoint of free will or accusations of such election being unjust. I will not go off into the apologetics that reformed theologians have employed to discount these objections (partly because I am not well enough versed in them, partly because it is immaterial to my purpose). Suffice it to say that spiritually, intellectually and scripturally, I have been persuaded in favor of Calvinism. (If you want a good introductory study of Reformed theology, you can read "What Is Reformed Theology?" by Dr. R.C. Sproul.)
            My belief in unconditional election is founded on one of the foundations, not only of Reformed theology, but of universally accepted Christian doctrine, and that is inherent sinfulness. Inherent sinfulness is the biblical doctrine stating that every single human being is conceived, born and raised in sin. Original sin states that man is inherently sinful, that we sin because we are sinners, not that we are sinners because we sin. Our hearts are wicked, and at enmity with God. All theologically orthodox Christians agree on this doctrine. To Calvinists, it is referred to as total depravity, and it is the basis of unconditional election. You see, it is our inherent sinfulness, our total depravity, that makes the atoning sacrifice of Christ necessary, and without the atonement, there is no debate on election. The opposing views on the process of salvation are these: on the one hand, the Arminian believes that man's salvation is entirely dependent on man's choice (commonly, though I believe incorrectly, referred to as "free will"). Man is presented with the Gospel, and then chooses to accept it or reject it. On the other hand, the Calvinist believes that, prior to Creation, God chose all who would be saved, and those "elect" are then called and irresistibly drawn by God's grace to be saved. To be sure there is a choice to be made, but faith has been planted and the spirit awakened so that the choice is essentially inevitable.
              My problem with the Arminian view is that, if man alone is responsible for his choice, then only morally superior beings could choose to be saved. This would effectually eliminate total depravity altogether, since to be a doctrine it must apply to all equally. The Arminian may here counter,"No, it does not mean that, it just means that he has chosen to respond favorably to what he has been offered." My question is, how? How was he able to choose this treasure he has been offered, if he is irretrievably opposed to, at war with, at enmity with, God? What made him able to choose in favor of a God he hates? His "free will" is  undeniably bound by and to sin, so with what power does he choose against his nature? He would have to be morally and spiritually "less dead" than those who choose against God. This would not, as the Arminian believes, make salvation more fair, but less. For who would determine how one is made morally superior? Is it genetics, or upbringing, or social status? No, this simply will not do.
             Contrast with this the sovereign election of a holy, perfect and omniscient God. What could be more fair? It makes salvation truly unconditional, independent of our merit or worth. Some would say,"But to extend mercy to one and not another is unjust." I would refer you to Romans 9:18-19. Who's definition of justice are we using? Mankind's? I think mankind has weakened any moral authority it may wish to claim by its many atrocities, from the Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide to abortion. How dare we cry foul when confronted by election, when we cannot be counted upon to treat members of our own species fairly. God is perfect, righteous, just and holy; in what better hands could our eternity be left? Here the question arises," But how is it fair that Smith be chosen and Jones be not chosen? By what standard does God choose?" In short, God chooses from his own unfettered and uninfluenced will. He is not influenced by any outside forces; His will is not like our will. ( I recommend that you peruse A.W. Pink's "The Doctrine of Election" for a better treatment of this subject.) We make choices based on external factors, while He, in perfect omniscience and justice, simply wills that this or that be. We cannot apply justice as we understand it, for God in His sovereignty and omniscience is not bound by our short-sighted, incomplete perceptions. We cry injustice at the thought that not all men get a chance to be saved, but are we not faced with that fact everyday? Even according to the Arminian view, there is "injustice", for what else would you call any person who is never afforded a chance to hear the Gospel? If God, according to that argument, were to be totally fair, then all people would be born into Christian cultures. Yet this is not so.
              Here again arises an objection:"Does not everyone deserve a fair shake? How would you feel if you were the only human being not chosen to salvation?" How would I feel? Despondent. But how I feel does not have any effect on whether or not my condemnation is just. Am I a sinner, a hater of God? Have I broken His laws? If yes, then I am worthy of my judgement. To be granted a pardon is the prerogative of the King, not my right. I can lay no claim of right to His pardon; I am at His mercy. And what injustice is there in that? We will receive our day in court, we are all guilty, we are all condemned. To be extended His pardon is something beyond justice. It is forgiveness. It is mercy, and, as the Scripture I referenced above so clearly states, He shows mercy to whom He wills. The demands of justice have already been met; we have all sinned, we are all guilty, we must all be judged. To be granted a pardon has nothing to do with justice at all, but to His mercy. On what grounds do we question the will of our Creator? Based on what rights? That we exist? We exist for His purpose and His pleasure, and at His command. So to be pardoned or not to be pardoned is none of our concern, for we cannot influence it anyway.
               This is why I believe in unconditional election: 1) without it, I have no power to choose Christ, 2) to be pardoned is up to my Creator, my Judge and my King. Justice dictates that I pay for what I have done and what I am, but mercy grants me pardon, not based on good behavior, but based on the perfect will of my perfect King. If that does not satisfy you, then I have nothing more to offer. You must face these questions on your own, and answer them on your own. May God in His mercy and grace guide you to the right destination.
             
           

2 comments:

  1. I am incapable of understanding why anyone believes this doctrine, which isn't to say I do not respect those who do, or think you are wrong. Maybe, I'm wrong. I just cannot mentally grasp it. I can't wrap my head around it. Too many gaps in the reasoning for me. (BTW, I do not think I agree with all Arminianism teaches, either. I'm convinced they are both incomplete on purpose. We still see through a glass darkly, you know?)

    Are you familiar with Dave Hunt? He's written a book on the subject, which I have not read. However, I have watched many of his presentations on YouTube.

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  2. If God, in His infinite wisdom, had already made the decision about who would be saved and there was no choice on the part of mankind, we would all be robots. There would have been no reason for Him to send Jesus to die for our sins because He had already preordained the outcome. He desires us to serve Him because we want to, not because we don't have a choice!

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