What Does the Bible Say about the Doctrine of Election?

electionIn the Bible, the word “election” is used in a number of ways. For instance, in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks of “the elect” (vv. 22, 24, 31); in Romans 9 Paul explains “God’s purpose of election” (v. 11); and in Ephesians 1:4–6, Paul says the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” and “in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” These are but three examples that undergird the doctrine of election.

While debated, the doctrine is plainly biblical. ‘Chose,’ ‘elect,’ ‘election,’ and ‘predestined’ are Bible words. And when they are read in conjunction with passages that speak of God’s unique relationship with his sheep (John 10:26), his children (John 11:51–52), the ones given to the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17), and his appointment of some to believe (Acts 13:48), the evidence for unconditional election is incredibly strong. As George Mueller said of the doctrines that he once thought “devilish,”[1]

Being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.[2]

That being said, my point is not so much to advance a theological argument for the doctrine of election, but to observe more plainly how the Bible speaks of election. As Mueller stated, the New Testament authors assumed election was true. It was, in fact, part of their cultural heritage. The Jewish people were the covenant people because God chose them from among the nations (Deut 7:7). Yahweh blessed apart from the Gentiles (Rom 9:1–3). Accordingly, the doctrine of election is commonplace in the New Testament. Continue reading

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism means different things to different people. Even to those who might call themselves “Calvinist,” what they mean by the term is not always the same. Typically, as a shorthand expression for what I believe about salvation, I am comfortable to call myself a Calvinist. And yet, because that label is so often misused, misunderstood, and misapplied, I am equally desirous to avoid it altogether.

Nevertheless, the question remains: What is Calvinism?

The answer to that question takes more than just two sentence, simple answer. Because it is a term that has historical, theological, and worldview meanings, it takes time to get a handle on it. Therefore, for those who have an interest and an ear to hear, let me give you a five-fold answer to that question: Calvinism is (1) a shorthand expression for the doctrines of grace, (2) a biblical-theological system, (3) an historical phenomenon, (4) a biblical worldview, and (5) an attitude of worship. As always, let me know what you think.  Continue reading

The Language of Election in the Bible: A Few Word Studies

electionIn today’s sermon on Titus 1:1–4, I considered the question: What is election?

I stated the New Testament teaches that election is individual and unconditional. This, of course, is not an undisputed interpretation, but it is my conviction after wrestling with the doctrine over the last dozen years. In my sermon, I only had time to quote Ephesians 1:4–6 and Romans 9:15–16, 18 as evidence for an individual and unconditional election.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:15–16, 18)

However, for those who are interested in considering this subject in greater detail, I have outlined the following word studies. I wrote these a few years ago and edited them this week. For those desirous of seeing what Scripture says about election, predestination, and other related subjects, these documents will introduce and comment upon a number of important texts.

All together the studies comprise over 30 pages. Therefore, to help arrange it, I’ve broken them up into smaller studies. Since I haven’t had time to add the Scripture reference in every case, you should read these word studies and theological reflections with an open Bible. (Because they were written with my congregation in mind they are based on the English Standard Version, not the original languages. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I update the contents with further attention to the Greek and Hebrew).

Word Studies

Theological Reflections

Let me know what you think and what questions remain concerning the doctrine of salvation. I believe iron sharpens iron and that humble, honest discussion about this biblical truth is good and needed in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

‘Credit the Calvinists’: A First Things Article by a Non-Calvinist

It’s always interesting to hear Non-Calvinists interact with Calvin and his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian ReligionMost recently, James R. Rogers, a political science professor at Texas A & M and a self-described non-Calvinist, made some astute observations about Calvin, Luther, and Augustine. Here is his lead paragraph.

I picked up John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion some years back. Dipping into it, I anticipated a dry, grim, and doctrinaire treatise. Perhaps because I came to it with such low expectations, the books surprised me. I found the Institutes surprisingly accessible, written by a lively, engaged mind. I anticipated the argument of the books to be tightly wound around the theme of God’s sovereignty—with the focus on God’s glory coming at the expense of humanity’s abasement. Instead, as in Martin Luther’s treatment of predestination, I found that God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination played a manifestly pastoral role in Calvin’s theology. The focus was not on obliterating the human, but rather underscoring God’s great love for his people in rescuing humanity from death, darkness, and despair. The upshot of the doctrine as I read Calvin was “This is a God you can trust.”

I would whole-heartedly agree with Rogers. Anyone who critiques Calvinism carte blanche has never read Calvin. Calvin’s Institutes—aside from his polemical arguments against Roman Catholicism—is entirely devotional. It beckons the reader not to know theology, but to know God. Predestination for Calvin—and the Calvinists I know—is not a heady doctrine to figure out who’s in and who’s out. It’s the humbling truth that God from eternity past has been at work to secure my salvation.

Rogers whole article, “Credit the Calvinists,” is worth reading, as it recognizes a major reason why Calvinism is both loved and hated today. Against the current spirit of the age, Calvinism offers an anthropology (i.e., a view of humanity) that bespeaks man’s moral inability to seek after God. He summarizes why many oppose Calvinism,

Modern man does not want to be transparent before God, or before anyone else. We deem it an invasion of our privacy and of our autonomy. We want our hearts to be the one place in creation so sacred that even God dare not tread there.

Rogers is right. No one naturally desires to relinquish sovereignty over his life.  As Paul put it, quoting the Psalms,

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)

The glory of a Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) is that the Triune God liberates the heart enslaved to sin, so that regenerate man might freely choose Christ. Calvinism does not decimate free will; it rehabilitates it by means of the resurrecting power of the effectual call. May we rejoice in that truth and preach the gospel to all men, so that the good shepherd would claim his sheep by name.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Purpose-Driven Predestination

As “The Year of Living Dangerously” continues at Southern Seminary, School of Theology Dean, Russell Moore, took a bold step to preach a message on election from Romans 8:26-9:6 in the Southern’s chapel service today. His point could not have been clearer: Election is not a theoretical head game that seminarians debate in local coffee shops, it is instead a spiritual truth and a biblical reality that empowers prayer, promotes peace, and propels the Great Commission. You can listen to the whole thing here.