A Different Kind of Calvinism: Jesus’ Unconditional Election

Probably the most defining doctrine of classical, TULIP Calvinism (TC here, as in my previous posts) is the U, “unconditional election.” It is this doctrine which most people associate with the word “predestination.” In order to explain how Evangelical Calvinism (EC, remember) retools election, I will need to briefly but clearly explain both TC unconditional election and Arminian conditional election.

The “Normal” Election Debate

Here’s the gist of the two positions I’ll explain EC election in light of:

  • In TC unconditional election, God chooses before time for some people to believe and others to remain in unbelief, not based on anything He foresees in or about them. God does not elect people to salvation because He knows they will believe or do good. Instead, people believe and do good because God elects them to salvation.
  • In Arminian conditional election, God chooses before time for some people to be saved because He foresees that they will use the grace given to them to believe. He maintains everyone’s free will with prevenient grace, and looks ahead to see if they will use it to believe. If so, they are elect.

Furthermore, there are two kinds of TC unconditional election: infralapsarian and supralapsarian. Infralapsarians believe that God’s choice of election is made in light of His choice to allow (or cause, as some Calvinists say!) the Fall, while supralapsarians believe that God’s choice to allow the Fall is made in light of His choice to elect some to salvation. This isn’t super important right now, but I’ll come back to it.

Electing Who to What, Again?

What is is that the classical Calvinist and Arminian views of election have in common? They consider election the wrong kind of choice. Think of this for a moment: Election is, basically, choosing. When we elect a President, we choose him. When I elect to watch Doctor Who, I choose it over any other show at that time.

For Calvinists and Arminians, election is God’s choice of who will be saved. On this, EC is very different.

In both TC and Arminianism, the choice involved in election is assume to have a certain “who” and a certain “what.” They both consider the “who” of election to be individual believers (not counting corporate election right now), in TC those unconditionally chosen by God and in Arminianism those who God foreknows will believe. They both consider the “what” of election to be final salvation (well, some Arminians argue sanctification) for the “who.” So for both, election is God’s choice of who will be saved.

On this, EC is very different. Drawing heavily from Karl Barth, for EC election can be summed up as God’s choice to be God for a humanity made to be for Him, both sides purposed in Jesus Christ. The “who” is Jesus, both the God who chooses to be for man and the true Man chosen to be for God. The “what” is the loving communion between God and humanity created entirely in, through, and by the one God-man.

Jesus became the reprobate for us so that we could become the elect in Him!

In a secondary way, the human race as a whole becomes the “who,” because Jesus traded His place as God’s Chosen One for our place as the reprobate (those who are not elect but condemned). Because Jesus, “who did not know sin [became] sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” we are now elected in Jesus’ election. The only reprobate (again, those who are not elect but condemned) is Jesus because He suffered our reprobation on the Cross, yet even His reprobation is no more because He rose again and ascended to heaven!

In case this was all confusing, I’ll summarize. Election is choosing. God’s elect, His chosen one, is Jesus. God chose Him to be the Mediator, the God-man who brings God and man together, because He chooses to be man’s God. We are by nature the reprobate, the not-chosen ones, because of our sin. But Jesus became the reprobate for us so that we could become the elect in Him. Now He is risen and we are free to be God’s chosen humans, because we are in Christ, God’s chosen Human.

To add to all this, EC election is unconditional. Jesus is not elect to save us because of any foreseen faith or merit humanity might have. Jesus did not choose humanity because we deserved it or had some potential. His choice to be for us is of freedom and love and completely gratuitous. This election is also supralapsarian, that is, based before the Fall. God did not choose Jesus to bring humanity to Him because of our foreseen or planned sinfulness. It was not originally because God knew we would sin that He brought in Jesus’ life as the solution. Instead, Jesus was always the plan. For God to freely be man’s God and make us God’s man, Jesus was the way from the start.

So What about Free Will vs. Predestination?

I’m sure this all sounds very lovely, but many of you are probably wondering what this has to do with free will and predestination as the debate usually goes. Do people make the final choice if they will be saved or does God choose who will believe? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as the question would like it to be. This particular either/or is a little messed up.

The God revealed in Jesus is not equally interested in saving and destroying.

Unfortunately, to answer this correctly requires that I add another idea to this mix, one that will take longer than this post to explain. If you’re up for some advance study, that element is the [i]vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ[/i]. Google should help if you’re interested until next time. Another hint would be to go back to my second post on eternal security, which has Christ’s vicarious humanity as an important but unnamed theme.

Before I do end, I will explain that EC does clearly and vehemently reject the TC concept of double predestination in which God chooses before time who will be believe and be saved vs who will remain in unbelief and be damned. This is simply not Christian, that is, it is not a Christ-ian concept. The God revealed in Jesus is not equally interested in saving and destroying, on the same basis willing to predestine to life and death. He prayed “Father forgive them” over His most damnable enemies. Therefore the TC idea of God being pleased to unconditionally destine people to death simply doesn’t work.

A Magical Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Sandwich Recipe

I do love Chick-fil-A. Their sandwiches are the best. So one day I was on the Internet and searched for a recipe to make a Chick-fil-A style chicken sandwich. This led me to the basis for this post, a Serious Eats Food Lab article on how to make one. The detailed experiment post is here, while the actual recipe is here.

Let me be clear. The Serious Eats sandwich recipe is completely awesome. That makes crazy delicious chicken.

But!

Some people order the spicy sandwich. My wife is definitely one of those people. So in order to please her (and I often do like spicy, too), I did some experimenting to make a Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich recipe. This is the result. It is based on the Serious Eats recipe, with my experimental additions in bold. Ashley gave it her seal of spicy approval, so it will be spicy. In fact, it’s probably spicier than the real spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, but if you like spicy that’s a good thing.

So without further ado, here’s the details:

Stage One: Brining

Ingredients

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Two chicken breasts, cut into a total of four sandwich-sized pieces

Directions

Brining is easy. Fill a pot with water, mix in lots of salt and some sugar (the exact amounts aren’t really important), and then put the chicken and the brine solution into a Ziploc bag or something similar. Let it sit for 6 hours or more. Overnight is pretty convenient. 

Stage Two: Preparations

Ingredients

Spice Mix

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon something else spicy (my preference is jalapeno, but not everyone has that)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered MSG (optional)

Milk/Egg Wash

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (any kind works)

Breading

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons powdered non-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons spice mix (from above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Directions

  1. Prepare the spice mix in a tiny bowl. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the milk/egg wash in a medium-small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the breading in a bigger bowl. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the milk/egg wash in the breading and mix in to make it somewhat coarse and clumpy.
  4. Start heating up your oil to 350°F. Peanut oil is ideal, but I use vegetable for cost.
  5. Now take your chicken out of the brine. Dry each piece as much as possible (paper towels work), then cover them completely with the spice mixture. 

Stage Three: Getting Cooking

Ingredients

  • Butter. Lots of butter.
  • Hamburger buns.
  • Pickle slices (if you’re into that sort of thing)

Directions

  1. Start battering the chicken. One piece at a time, dip them in the egg, then let the excess drip off and transfer to the flour.
  2. Make sure when battering the chicken to press lots of breading firmly against the chicken to get as much to stay on as possible.
  3. As you’re preparing to cook the chicken, you should probably start working on the buns. Just big-time butter a skillet or griddle and cook the buns in the butter.
  4. Before putting the chicken in the oil, sprinkle them with a last dash of spices.
  5. Now put the chicken pieces one by one into the oil. In my case, each piece took about 6 minutes to cook all the way though.
  6. When done, take them out one by one and immediately sprinkle some more spices on them.
  7. Take the buns off the skillet, stick the pickles and chicken on them, and eat super-spicy, super-delicious chicken!

I Feel Robbed of the Psalms

The heavens declare the glory of God;
 the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
 night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
 no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
 their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
 like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
 and makes its circuit to the other;
 nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

As you’ve just read, the psalms are amazing. Truly, out of all the history of world literature, there is no collection of poems so impressive. Besides merely its size, impressive as that is, the psalms record for us hundreds of years of praise, lament, and prayer inspired by the Spirit and written by the people of Israel to their God, who is our God, now known to us in Jesus.

Yet I feel robbed of them.

What do I mean? I recently read a book by Tom Wright called The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. In this book he discusses the tragic neglect of the psalms in the life and worship of much of the modern Church.

I have to agree, and at the end of his book I felt like I had been missing out for years. Wright, an Anglican, grew up praying and singing the psalms in the Anglican churches he attended. They’ve always been in his life, sustaining him like breakfast and shaping his prayer and worship life. But I, along with many others who grew up in American evangelical churches, do not share that story. While we certainly include the psalms in our Bible reading, we do not generally make use of them as a prayerbook and hymnbook the way some other Christian traditions (and Jesus Himself!) have.

We don’t use the psalms, at least not like Jesus and the early Christians.

This really saddens me. Jesus grew up, as every good Jew did, reading, singing, and praying the psalms in both His private life and public worship. So did the early Christians. And it made a profound impact on them. A quick glance at the New Testament shows dozens and dozens of quotes, references, and allusions to the psalms. In depth study reveals even more of these. So the psalms even greatly influenced our uniquely Christian Scriptures in an incomparable way.

What’s my point? My issue is that we don’t use the psalms, at least not like this. Sure, we’ll have our AWANA kids memorize a few verses, and we have a handful of hymns and Chris Tomlin songs based on them, but overall they get little attention. Yet the psalms are magical. The Holy Spirit brought them to life when they were first written and continues to do so today. They are filled with all the emotions and reflections that all people, especially all of God’s people, live with every day. They are equally filled with God’s hope, promises, and majesty. 

All this means we need the psalms to function in our lives like they were originally written to function for the people of Israel. We need them to lead our prayers and worship, both in corporate life, in the middle of our actual church services on Sunday mornings as a congregation, and in personal life, in our closets and bedrooms as we spend time in fellowship with God.

Like I said, I feel robbed when I hear of Tom Wright’s story, in which he grew up around the psalms used this way. They are written in his heart and mind now, affecting the way he prays, worships, hopes, and sees the world (including his approach to Christianity overall). That’s not my story. The psalms were always just a peripheral part of Scripture, some nice poems that we might include verses of in memorization or stick into a reading plan. We were never taught to pray them, or to sing them, or to really even understand them. At any of the churches I’ve been to (mostly Baptist, but also some Pentecostal and nondenominational, not counting the Episcopal church I went to a Christmas service at), this has been the same. I feel let down by evangelical American churches.

If I could go back in time, I would read, pray, and sing the psalms more.

If I could go back in time, I would read the psalms more. I would pray them and relate them to my own life and our world. I would find music to use so I could sing them. And I believe they would transform the way I think and feel about God, people, and everything else. As it is, I can’t go back and try again, so I’m trying to start doing these things now. I’m only 20, so I guess I still have time (Lord willing!) to be molded like this, but I still feel like I’ve missed out on a lot.

Does anyone agree with or relate to me on this? If so, leave a comment or even email me. I might want to start posting some thoughts on individual psalms and relating them to our lives and prayers, maybe even finding good song versions. Who knows? Well, God does, and to Him be the glory!

A Different Kind of Calvinism: Some Quick Background and the Gist

In my last post, I introduced my recent (somewhat in progress) transition from classical, TULIP Calvinism (“TC”) to Evangelical Calvinism (“EC”). I did not elaborate much, of course. That is the point of the rest of the series. Before I get into all the details, I’ll give a quick history lesson about where EC came from. After all, no discerning believer is going to jump straight into novel doctrine. He’ll need to see roots in the tradition of the Church. Totally new ideas in theology are almost always wrong and lead to dangerous paths, after all.

A Brief History of Evangelical Calvinism

Like all Christian beliefs, EC seeks to have a root in Scripture. Every tradition has its own major texts, though, and EC is no different. Hebrews is a major resource for EC theology. Romans 4, Ephesians 1, Philippians 2, and Colossians 1 are as well. These touchstone texts help form the basis for many of the fundamental ideas in EC.

A next major historical reference point for EC theology is Athanasius. He was a 4th century Christian apologist who did some great work on the Incarnation and the Atonement. His book On the Incarnation is still a classic. He is not alone among the Church Fathers in many of his ideas. EC theology makes good use of them.

In looking to historical documents EC identifies mainly with the Scots Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.

After that, there is some helpful influence within medieval theology. Not much of that is notable here. Naturally, being historically Calvinist and thus also Reformed, EC traces itself in a defining way to the Protestant Reformation. EC theology takes quite a bit from Martin Luther and John Calvin. This doesn’t include either of their ideas on election and predestination. Luther’s “theology of the cross” and Calvin’s use of union with Christ with the duplex gratia (double grace) of justification and sanctification are very important.

Next, EC follows along certain lines of Reformed theology that developed in Scotland. John Knox is an important theologian in this path. In looking to historical documents (as any good Reformed tradition does) EC identifies mainly with the Scots Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.

Evangelical Calvinism, like the Protestant Reformation, seeks to recover old truths and refresh their understanding, not to invent.

In modern times, EC draws quite a bit from Karl Barth (especially in the election department) and even more from Thomas Torrance. Both of these stand firmly in the Reformed camp, though not mainstream. Torrance is himself the origin of the term “Evangelical Calvinist.” It comes from his book Scottish Theology. There he sometimes referred to Scottish Calvinists who preached more on grace than predestination as “evangelical Calvinists.” This was because their theology and practice was naturally more evangelistic than that of classical Calvinism. Today, readers of Torrance including Bobby Grow and Myk Habets have taken that term and made it the designation for this overall theological direction.

I want this to make something clear. EC is not meant to be altogether “new.” Novelty is not always a virtue, especially in theology. While EC might say a few mostly new ideas, most of the EC project is pulling together different ideas that have roots all back through Christian history. Some of these EC refines or explains in new ways. All of them are brought into a sharply Christ-centered focus which has not always been used for them. But the EC movement, in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation, seeks to recover old truths and refresh their understanding, not to invent.

A Brief Summary of Evangelical Calvinism

So, what do we get from this history? How did this kind of theology turn out? It seems, to me, to take every thought captive to Christ. It starts and ends with the Triune God of love. EC understands Him only through the way He has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and then Scripture. We do not start with logical proofs for God’s existence, and a discussion of divine attributes. Instead we start with the revealed fact of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the way God acts as seen in Jesus Himself—the exact expression of God’s nature—and recorded in Scripture. Any ideas about God’s all-power, all-knowledge, or all-presence are understood by how they are presented to us in this revelation, not by abstract philosophical reasoning. This, naturally, includes questions involving God’s sovereignty and electing plans.

For EC theology, Jesus is the center and the rule of understanding. As Bobby Grow often says, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.” Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature.” God has spoken to us about Himself perfectly in His Son. So everything we know about God must be understood in light of what Jesus reveals about Him. Jesus says “Let the little children come unto me.” Therefore God the Father is not working deciding behind the scenes which of the children will not come to Him. “God so loved the world so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” This does not allow for “God secretly decrees which ‘whosoevers’ believe and which perish.” That would mean that God Himself still hides from us, showing in Jesus only some of what He is and what He does. In fact, in this case, it would seem as though Jesus is Himself not God as a man, but God partially revealed through a man!

We start with the revealed fact of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the way God acts as seen in Jesus Himself.

Not only, though, is Jesus the perfect appearance of God. He is also the prototype human! All human nature is based on Jesus’ human nature. This might sound strange, but consider this. Humanity was created “in the image of God,” aka the imago dei. What is that image? It’s been debated for years, but in truth the answer was always in Scripture. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God!” Jesus is the image of God, and we are made in His image. Therefore Jesus’ own human life is the basis for ours. But what does that mean and what does it do?

Well, because of the last two paragraphs there is no nonsense in EC about a “limited atonement.” Jesus did not come and die only willing to save a handful of people. In fact, simply by coming as a human being Jesus is shown to working towards the salvation of everyone. In Jesus God Himself is joined to humanity in His very nature. So He redeems our fallen state through a life of sinless perfection and complete sanctification. Born “in the likeness of sinful flesh” He condemned our sin. He had a human nature like our own yet didn’t sin, showing us all as guilty. But He doesn’t leave us in our guilt. Instead He died, in His own human person summing up ours on a deep and real level. So He wrapped up all of our sin in Himself and died, taking it with Him. Even though His life proved that we deserved judgment, Jesus suffered that same judgment He brought on us.

Humanity was created “in the image of God.” Jesus is the image of God!

Finally, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. In 40 days, He ascended to heaven. These events are the final guarantee of salvation for the human race. Jesus, as I said before, is the basis for human life. So when He died to sin, rose from the grave, and ascended to the Father, He accomplished this for all humanity. The death of our sinful natures, new Spirit-powered life, and communion with God are now part of human nature itself! All we need is to hear the Gospel preached with the power of the Holy Spirit working in it. Then we can be brought by the Spirit’s power into Jesus own human life, and so believe and be saved. When we are connected to Jesus by the Spirit through faith, we share His death to sin, His Spirit-powered resurrection life, and His intimacy with the Father. Amen, hallelujah!

Next Time on “The Nicene Nerd”

I hope all of this has rung true to you. I do imagine that it is not obvious how this differs from some things you may have always heard, or how it addresses the so-called 5 points of Calvinism. Rest assured I will answer these questions in the rest of the series. But I thought it was important to go ahead and explain why EC is not a new invention, and what the Gospel looks like from an EC perspective. In my next post, I will probably discuss what’s on everyone’s mind: election and the will of man.

A Different Kind of Calvinism: Introducing the Change

I’m not the Calvinist I used to be. This change came rather suddenly, but was the result of a long process of difficulty with TULIP. While when I became a Calvinist (feels like 100 years ago) I loved it. My experience was rather honeymoon like. It was the best thing that had happened to me theologically.

Soon, though, the honeymoon ended. In time I came to be struck by the same problems that keep people from becoming Calvinists in the first place. How does the God of love determine before time to abandon most of humanity in their sins? Does God even love all people in any meaningful way? Can God really glorify Himself through destroying people created in the image of His beloved Son?

These questions bubbled in the back of my mind for a very long time, but I was never able to come up with any answers or any alternative theologies. Arminianism is Biblically weak. Molinism cheats philosophically. Catholic options are, well, Catholic. Open Theism is borderline heresy. For this reason I felt stuck in TULIP Calvinism, unable to find any other doctrine on these matters that seemed robustly Biblical. At one point the tension got so bad I just about went crazy with it, as reflected by a now-deleted blog post. But I settled down after that, content to trust God despite the confusion.

This all changed a few months ago when I discovered Evangelical Calvinism. Drawing from a particular stream of Calvinist tradition in Scotland, the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, Karl Barth, John Calvin, and Thomas Torrance, Evangelical Calvinism brought fresh perspective, with robustly Biblical and Christ-centered answers (and questions!) that changed everything.

I will not explain all of the differences between Evangelical Calvinism (hereon “EC”) and classical, TULIP Calvinism (hereon “TC”) here. This will be a multi-part series. For this point I will go ahead and give quick, basic, misleading answers to the immediate questions people ask. No, within EC I do not believe in double predestination, irresistible grace, limited atonement, or that God decides every future human choice of sin and evil. TC does affirm all of these points, but I have left them behind now because of a beautiful and Biblical theology that still remains in the historical Calvinist tradition. We may not agree with TC on the “five points on Calvinism” and other things, but EC still originates with Calvinist history and gives weight to John Calvin (on different subjects than TC usually does), so we keep the word “Calvinist.” EC focuses mostly on union with Christ—that we are somehow “in Christ” and it changes us—and the relation of the Triune God with humanity through Jesus instead of issues like predestination and decrees.

I only say all this because several people I’ve mentioned EC to recently have asked what it is all about and how it is different from TC. Well, that’s a long story, so I decided I might as well answer everything in detail through a series of blog posts. Until the next one! Semper reformanda!