Few doctrines divide God’s people like the doctrine of election. Since both the word, “election” in its various forms, plus the concept using different words is found repeatedly in the Bible, some explanation must be offered. It cannot simply be ignored.
Although there are various shades of interpretation, in the end, it boils down to two possibilities. Either election means God chose His people without reference to anything He saw in man (unconditional election), or God chose people based upon something He saw or foresaw within them (conditional election).
Since the days of the Protestant Reformation, these two concepts have resulted in two different theologies, Calvinism, which holds to unconditional election, and Arminianism which teaches conditional election. In truth, there are variations within these two camps, and some prefer to avoid either label, but there are really only two positions on election. For brevity’s sake, I will use the commonly accepted historic labels.
In this article, I will examine a text that is often claimed by both sides of the debate.
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Eph. 1:4)
In this excerpt from his classic Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Thiessen explains the concept of prevenient grace:1
All Christians are agreed that God has decreed to save men, but not all are agreed as to how He does this. We must, in this connection, particularly remember that God must take the initiative in salvation, that man, even in his present helpless state, is really responsible, and that God’s decrees are not based on caprice or arbitrary will, but on His wise and holy counsel. To our mind, the following things seem to be involved in the decree to save sinners:
The freedom of man
God has a very high regard for freedom. He could have made the creature an automon, but He preferred to make him capable of choosing whether or not he would obey and serve Him. The idea of freedom appears in two forms in Scripture.
On the one hand, freedom is thought of as simply the ability to carry out the dictates of one’s nature, whether as that of a holy unfallen being or as that of a sinful and fallen one. On the other hand, freedom is conceived of also as the ability to act contrary to one’s nature. Originally the creature (both angels and man) had freedom in both senses of the term. It had the ability not to sin and also the ability to sin. With the fall, the creature lost the ability not to sin (Gen 6:5; Job 14:14; Jer 13:23, 17:9; Rom 3:10-18, 8:5-8). It is now free only in the sense that it is able to do so as its fallen nature suggests.
I first encountered the term “High Calvinism” when I read Lewis Chafer’s systematic theology. This term is a bit old-fashioned now, of course. If someone is a “High Calvinist,” it means he’s very Reformed in his soteriology. This surely described R.C. Sproul!
In a book entitled Willing to Believe: Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation, Sproul provided a short historical theology of this topic by examining nine different theologians and their soteriological positions. In this excerpt, Sproul frames one part of this important issue:1
This classic issue between Augustinian theology and all forms of semi-Pelagianism focuses on one aspect of the order of salvation (ordo salutis): What is the relationship between regeneration and faith? Is regeneration a monergistic or synergistic work? Must a person first exercise faith in order to be born again? Or must rebirth occur before a person is able to exercise faith? Another way to state the question is this: Is the grace of regeneration operative or cooperative?
"Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, argued in an article for The Gospel Coalition on Monday that an examination of the question may open the door to the possibility that "exceptional" cases of salvation are possible." - CPost
In this highly irregular series of posts, I’ve been considering the question, How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? As I explained in the first installment:
Molinism is a theory that purports to reconcile a robust doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge with a libertarian view of free will by appealing to the notion of divine middle knowledge: God’s eternal knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that is, contingent truths about what possible creatures would freely choose if they were created by God and placed in particular circumstances.