Divine Election - Part II
In continuation of part one . . .
A. The Arminian Concept of God's Will
Thomas Oden (The Transforming Power of Grace [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993]) contends that "the eternal will to save may be viewed as either antecedent or consequent to the exercise of human freedom in history" (82). This Wesleyan-Arminian perspective recognizes "God's primordial (or antecedent) benevolence, and God's special (or consequent) benevolence. A distinction is posited between God's antecedent will to save (voluntas antecedens, antecedent to the exercise of human freedom), and God's consequent will (voluntas consequens) to reward the just and punish the unjust consequent to the exercise of their freedom" (83).
Thus the universal sufficiency of grace is viewed in three phases:
1. God's will antecedently is to save all;
2. God's will is to offer grace sufficient to make actual God's universal will to save;
3. Consequent upon the exercise of freedom, God's will is to destine those who freely accept grace to be near to God in eternal blessedness and to destine those who reject grace to be far from God in eternal separation (83).
God's antecedent will is that all be saved. It is called "antecedent" because it precedes and is unrelated to the free and self-determining response of people to believe or not believe. God's consequent will, so called because it is subsequent to and follows upon the decision to believe or not believe, is that those who embrace the gospel in faith shall be saved whereas those who reject it be lost. Thus the antecedent will of God is equally and impartially disposed toward all without regard to any human responsiveness. This antecedent will is wholly sincere, insofar as there is no secret intent that some would not be saved. Consequent to and upon human choice God wills that those who have freely believed receive salvation. By virtue of divine foreknowledge, God knew in advance who would and who would not avail themselves of the prevenient grace that was the fruit of his antecedent benevolence. Thus, says Oden, "the antecedent will focuses on God's eternal intent to give, the consequent on God's will in answer to historical human responsiveness. The former is universally and equally given, the latter particularly and variably received according to human choice" (88). If there is any relation between God's antecedent will and human faith it is that faith is the condition under which God antecedently wills all to be saved. In other words, God truly and sincerely wills for all to be saved . . . but only if they believe.
Oden contends that """since God is eternally present to all moments -- past, present, and future -- God foreknows how free agents will choose, but that foreknowing does not determine their choice" (128). Events are known by God because they exist, but do not exist because he knows them. Thus God's foreknowledge does not place a necessity on any foreknown event. Things do not happen because God foreknows them. God foreknows them because they will happen.
Grace arrested man in his fall and placed him in a salvable state and endowed him with the gracious ability to meet all the conditions of personal salvation. The redemption that God intends for all must be freely chosen as the human will cooperates with the conditions of grace enabled by the history of grace in Christ. "Insofar as grace precedes and prepares free will it is called prevenient. Insofar as grace accompanies and enables human willing to work with divine willing, it is called cooperating grace" (47).
Prevenient grace is universal. "To no one," says Oden, "not even the recalcitrant unfaithful, does God deny grace sufficient for salvation" (48). Prevenient grace is responsible for "healing the nature vitiated by original sin and restoring the liberty of the children of God" (58).
Thus, "God antecedently wills that all should be saved, but not without their own free acceptance of salvation. Consequent to that exercise of freedom, God promises unmerited saving mercies to the faithful and fairness to the unfaithful" (77). God "provides sufficient grace to every soul for salvation . . . . Those who cooperate with sufficient grace are further provided with the means for grace to become effective" (77). Therefore, whereas prevenient grace is distributed universally pursuant to the fulfillment of God's antecedent will that all be saved, it is not irresistible. It only makes a response in faith possible, but not certain. Any or all may conceivably resist the overtures and operation of prevenient grace to their eternal damnation. That some freely choose not to resist, but to yield, freely embracing the gospel, is foreknown by God, on the basis of which he elects them to inherit eternal life.
B. The Calvinistic Concept of Divine Election
An essential part of God's redemptive plan is the salvation of fallen sinners. However else one wishes to conceive it, God's election of individuals to eternal life antedates creation. It is a pretemporal act which the biblical authors describe as having transpired "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8) or "from the beginning" (2 Thess. 2:13). Election is a result of God's gracious purpose to save sinners, according to which we have been "predestined" to obtain an inheritance (Eph. 1:11). All of which, Paul tells us, "was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9).
The Calvinist insists that election is not grounded or based upon any act of man, for good or ill. Election "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16). That God should set his electing love upon any individual is not in any way dependent upon that person's will (Rom. 9:16), works (2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:11), holiness (Eph. 1:4), or obedience (1 Peter 1:1-2). Rather, election finds its sole and all-sufficient cause in the sovereign good pleasure and grace of God (Eph. 1:9; Rom. 9:11; 11:5; Matt. 11:25-26; 2 Tim. 1:9). Were election to be based upon what God foreknows that each individual will do with the gospel it would be an empty and altogether futile act. For what does God foresee in us, apart from his grace? He sees only corruption, ill will, and a pervasive depravity of heart and soul that serves only to evoke his displeasure and wrath.
What this means is that Calvinism is monergistic (made up two words that mean "one/sole" and "energy/power") when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. This simply means that when a person is saved it is due wholly to the working of one source of power: God. Arminianism is by necessity synergistic, in that it conceives of salvation as the joint or mutual effort of both God and man. However, in fairness to my Arminian friends, it must be pointed out that virtually all of them insist that God takes the initiative and that people then respond. Thus the word 'synergism' simply means two or more forces or powers working together with each other to accomplish a common goal. Some believe that the implications of this serve to undermine saving grace. G. C. Berkouwer, for example, says this:
"In no form of synergism is it possible to escape the conclusion that man owes his salvation not solely to God but also to himself. Still more accurately, he may thank himself -- by virtue of his decision to believe -- that salvation actually and effectively becomes his in time and eternity. To be sure, synergism is constantly seeking to avoid this conclusion, and it is seldom expressed in so many words that salvation really depends partly on man. Nevertheless, this conclusion cannot in the long run be avoided and it is clear that we actually are confronted here with the real problem of synergism as it results in a certain amount of human self-conceit" (Divine Election [Eerdmans, 1960], 42).
How, then, may we define election as it is conceived by those who call themselves Calvinists? Divine election may be defined as that loving and merciful decision by God the Father to bestow eternal life upon some, but not all, hell-deserving sinners. This decision was made before the foundation of the world and was based not upon any act of will or works of men and women, but solely upon God's sovereign good pleasure. One does not enter the ranks of the elect by meeting a condition, be it faith or repentance. One enters the ranks of the elect by virtue of God's free and altogether gracious choice, as a result of which he enables us to repent and believe. Thus, election is both sovereign and unconditional.
C. An Analysis of Romans 8:29-30
The Arminian approach to foreknowledge in this text takes one of three forms.
(1) Foreknowledge may refer to God's knowledge of all men and women from eternity past. In other words, foreknowledge is but a synonym for omniscience. There are two problems with this: a) all those whom God foreknows he also predestines; therefore, if foreknowledge encompasses every human being, then every human being will ultimately be saved (universalism); b) vv. 29-30 are the basis for Paul's assertion in v. 28, a passage that concerns "those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose," i.e., Christians.
(2) The other option is that foreknowledge refers to God's advance knowledge of who would choose or believe in Christ. God elects or predestines unto salvation those whom he foreknows will exercise saving faith in Christ. Election is therefore conditional. God elects or chooses those who first elect or choose Christ. God's elective choice of you, his decision to predestine you to eternal life, was conditioned upon his foreknowledge that you would believe in the gospel. Here is what Arminius himself says:
"To these [previous three decrees] succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere" (Works, I:248).
(3) A slightly different, but related, form of view (2) is the notion of corporate conditional election (as explained above). According to this view, election concerns God's appointment of the believing community to everlasting glory.
The Calvinistic approach to divine foreknowledge begins with this observation on what is happening in this passage:
"Paul portrays salvation as a series of divine initiatives snowballing toward fullness. He links these initiatives so tightly that each is born of the former and bears a promise of the one which follows. Glorification is thus the finishing touch on the indivisible divine work of salvation which originated in God's foreknowledge and predestination of Christians and has come to historical expression in their calling and justification. These verses truly do form a 'chain' of interconnected divine salvific works and so imply a continuity in Christians' salvation" (Paul and Perseverance, p. 13).
The verb "to foreknow" occurs five times in the NT (Acts 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17). The noun "foreknowledge" occurs in two texts (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2). The place to begin is with a definition of foreknowledge. John Murray writes:
"Many times in Scripture 'know' has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with 'love,' to set regard upon, to know with peculiar interest, delight, affection, and action (cf. Gen. 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Psalm 1:6; 144:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; II Tim. 2:19; 1 John 3:1). There is no reason why this import of the word 'know' should not be applied to 'foreknow' in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present (cf. 11:5,6)" (317).
See, for example, Matthew 7:23 where Jesus reveals his future response to false disciples at the last judgment: "I never knew you, depart from Me." As Baugh has pointed out, "Clearly, mere intellectual cognition is ruled out as the meaning of 'know' here, since it is precisely Jesus' knowledge of their real motives and covenantal status and commitments that leads to their condemnation. Rather, he says that these people never had covenantal relations with him; the Good Shepherd did not know them as his sheep, and they did not know him (John 10:14)" ("The Meaning of Foreknowledge," p. 194). Cf. Gal. 4:8-9
Thus, to foreknow is to forelove. That God foreknew us is but another way of saying that He set his gracious and merciful regard upon us, that He knew us from eternity past with a sovereign and distinguishing delight. God's foreknowledge is an active, creative work of divine love. It is not bare pre-vision which merely recognizes a difference between men who believe and men who do not believe. God's foreknowledge creates that difference! Or again, "speaking about God's foreknowledge may be a way of expressing his eternal commitment to individuals as part of his determination to bring them to faith and to all the glories and benefits of Christ's work" (Baugh, 196).
Predestination is not synonymous with foreknowledge. Foreknowledge focuses attention on the distinguishing love of God whereby men are elected. Predestination points to the decision God made of what He intended to do with those whom He foreknew. See Acts 4:28; Eph. 1:5,11. Predestination is that act in eternity past in which God ordained or decreed that those on whom He had set his saving love would inherit eternal life.
Calling, here, "must be understood as effectual. It is not merely an invitation that human beings can reject, but it is a summons that overcomes human resistance and effectually persuades them to say yes to God. This definition of "calling" is evident from Rom. 8:30, for there Paul says that "those whom he called he also justified.' The text does not say that "some" of those called were justified. It fuses the called and justified together so that those who have experienced calling have also inevitably received the blessing of justification" (Schreiner, 450-51).
Note the use of the past tense in describing glorification. Yet we are told in 8:18-25 that glorification is still future. Paul clearly wants to emphasize the fact that our glorification is so sure, so securely set and sealed in the mind and purpose and predestined plan of God, that it may be spoken of as having already occurred.
Observe also that each link is co-extensive with every other link. Paul makes it clear that the objects of God's saving activity are the same from start to finish. Those whom he foreknew, not one more nor one less, these he predestined. And those whom he predestined, not one more nor one less, these he called. And those whom he called, not one more nor one less, these he justified. And those whom he justified, not one more nor one less, these he glorified. Thus "Paul posits a continuity in the beneficiaries of salvation from its first manifestation in God's eternal counsel to its final one in glorification" (Gundry Volf, 14). So, how many did God lose in the process? Not one! All whom He foreknew in eternity past will ultimately be glorified in eternity future. Not one is lost. Not one! No one who is foreknown fails to be predestined. And no one who is predestined fails to be called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified!
N.B. There is also immense practical benefit in this interpretation. Vv. 29-30 are designed to provide the theological basis or foundation for the promise of v. 28. In other words, we can know with confidence that God truly will work in all things for our ultimate good (v. 28) because those whom he calls will most assuredly be glorified as well (vv. 29-30). Thus, God will permit nothing ultimately to hinder his eternal good purpose for his called ones.
[Other NT texts to consider on the doctrine of election include John 6:37-44, 64-65; 10:14-16,24-30; Acts 13:44-48; Romans 9; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:11; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 3:8-9; Revelation 13:8; 17:8.]