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.

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2 Thoughts to “A Different Kind of Calvinism: Jesus’ Unconditional Election

  1. Hi there, great article. In this I see the goodness of God. I always struggled with the calvinist view on this. The double predestination etc.
    When we preach like this we can truly say… The gospel is for all, everyone is truly free to come!
    I always thought Gochoosing who to save and by that not giving a possibility to repent and believe to others, but He does! This is good news! This is the gospel!

So what do you think?