6 Theses on Election

  1. Election begins and ends with Jesus Christ. As Barth has said, Jesus is both the electing God (Col. 2:9) and elected Man (Luke 9:35). He is the origin of creation (John 1:1-3) and its goal (Eph. 1:9-10). Anything else we say about election must trace back to this source, to the election of Jesus Christ as the one predestined to be revealed as God for us (1 Pet. 1:2).
  2. All other “elections” are grounded in relation to Christ. Of course, in Scripture Jesus is not the only one called “elect” or “chosen” by God. The terminology is applied to Israel (Deut. 7:6, 1 Chr. 16:13, Ps. 105:6), David (Ps. 78:70, 89:3), Moses (Ps. 106:23), the followers of Christ during the coming suffering (Matt. 24:22), Christians in general (Rom. 8:33, Col. 3:12, Titus 1:1),  and particular churches (2 Jn. 1:1, 13). Each of these is defined in relation to Christ, who is the goal of Israel’s election, the fulfillment of David’s dynasty, the greater prophet than Moses, the Rabbi to the apostles, and the one in whom believers find their own election (Eph. 1:4). No one could ever be elect except by relation to Christ.
  3. The election of God’s people in history is corporate-relational. Contra classical Calvinism and certain forms of Arminianism, election is not fundamentally an individual reality but one pertaining to groups. Yet this is not simply groups defined generically or abstractly, but the particular peoples are defined by relationships to particular individuals. Thus individuals share in the blessings of a specific election by virtue of their relation to its chosen covenantal head (Gen. 26:24, 1 Kgs. 11:12-13, Rom. 6:4). Israel was defined by a biological/covenantal relationship to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-2, 17:1-14). Noah’s family was chosen to by saved through the Flood by their marital and biological relationships to Noah (Gen. 6:9, 18, 7:1). David’s descendants became a chosen dynasty through their father (2 Sam. 7:12-16, Ps. 89:3-4). Finally, Christians make up a chosen people, the Church, because of their Spirit-grounded faith-relationship to Christ the elected Man (Eph. 1:4, cf. Rom. 8:1, 1 Cor. 1:30). This is essentially the opposite of the Calvinistic view: for Calvinists, we are incorporated into Christ because we have been elected, but I submit that we are elected because we have been incorporated into Christ.
  4. Election in its historical form is primarily vocational and not immediately soteriological. To be elect is not the same as being promised salvation, though the two are associated. The primary purpose of election in human history is for elect men to become witnesses of God and examples of His salvation to other men (Gen. 12:3, Matt. 28:19-20, John 15:16, Rom. 1:5, Gal. 1:15-16). Election is a calling, not a mere present. God’s salvation does not necessarily come to all people who are part of an elect community (Heb. 10:29, 2 Pet. 2:1, 1 Jn. 2:19). This is not a question about “losing salvation” but a statement that election is not automatically salvation. Members of the elect community who disobey their calling and, in doing so, deny their relationship with their covenantal head are removed and face judgment (Gen. 17:14, Exod. 31:14, 1 Kgs. 14:14, Ps. 37:9, John 15:2, 6, Rom. 11:22). Only those who participate in the obedience of their elected heads will finally be blessed, just as their heads obeyed God and were blessed (Gen. 26:2-6, Matt. 7:21-23, Heb. 5:7-8).
  5. The elect community is inherently self-expanding. The limit of the elect community is not a fixed number. Rather, election is meant to expand ever outwards as more people are blessed by the witness of the elect. Those who are not already elect find themselves blessed by the elect (Gen. 12:3, 30:27-30, 39:5, Josh. 6:25, Mic. 4:1-2, Zech. 2:11, Rom. 11:11-12). In this way those who are not a people become a people, and those who were unloved become loved (Rom. 9:25-26). Election therefore has an inherent outward pressure which works like leaven (Matt. 13:33) until through the witness of the elect the whole world is covered with the knowledge of God as water covers the seas (Isa. 11:9).
  6. There exists an outer ring of election which ultimately encompasses all people. If election begins and ends in Christ, then in some way it affects all of the human race. This is because, on the one hand, Jesus is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Col. 1:15) in whose image humanity was originally created (Gen. 1:26-27). This image defines humanity, and with it comes a calling which parallels the callings seen in other Biblical elections (Gen. 1:28-30), a calling which is finally bound up with Christ. So human nature and existence are not finally separable from the glory of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Jesus in His Incarnation identified Himself with and lived for all who share the same human flesh and blood (Heb. 2:5-17). The atonement implicates all humanity (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Tim. 2:6, Heb. 2:9). This ultimately means that Christ has chosen all people for Himself, and the Father has chosen all humanity in Christ. This, per thesis 4, is not a guarantee that all people will be saved, but promise that no one lies outside the salvific will and choice of God.
6 Theses on Election

10 thoughts on “6 Theses on Election

  1. Hi Caleb, great post! Just found you by way of Bobby’s blog. I think we had a brief interaction regarding 2 Peter 1:10. I’m looking forward to reading more from you! Keep up the good work.

  2. DD says:

    Hi,

    What about galatians 1:15-16 that speaks of Paul being set apart, called, pleased to reveal his Son before birth? Seems to speak about individual soteriological election…?

    And how to deal with texts like 1 thessalonians 1:4 for example?

    1. What about galatians 1:15-16 that speaks of Paul being set apart, called, pleased to reveal his Son before birth? Seems to speak about individual soteriological election…?

      I don’t think it does. It seems primarily focused on vocation, on God’s call for Paul to be apostle to the Gentiles. This plan implies salvation, but it does not naturally extrapolate to a general soteriology.

      And how to deal with texts like 1 thessalonians 1:4 for example?

      I’m not sure I see anything to address. It just mentions election without further comment. Could you be more specific?

      1. DD says:

        Could you explain a bit more why galatians isnt about a general Soteriology? And how can one be set apart for a vocation without being chosen also at that same moment before his birth? Or did God knew Paul would respond to the gospel?

        1 Thes 1 speaks of the people like “that he has chosen you”. It seems God chose them to be saved and neglected others. Or how do you read this text?

        1. Could you explain a bit more why galatians isnt about a general Soteriology? And how can one be set apart for a vocation without being chosen also at that same moment before his birth? Or did God knew Paul would respond to the gospel?

          There are many parallels in Scripture for God choosing a particular person to accomplish a particular task before their birth, the three most notable examples being Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Paul. But there is no specific evidence that this choosing of certain people for certain tasks in redemptive-history extends from there to “God individually chooses every Christian.” And it is unclear whether foreknowledge is part of this choice or not. In either case, we lack warrant for applying the same thing to all believers.

          1 Thes 1 speaks of the people like “that he has chosen you”. It seems God chose them to be saved and neglected others. Or how do you read this text?

          I don’t find “chosen” language as implying individual soteriological election. I agree that we have been chosen by God. But Israel was also spoken as in this way. Yet God did not choose a bunch of non-Israelites individuals to become Israelites. Rather, He chose Israel corporately in Abraham, in Issac, and in Jacob. The people in Israel were chosen by virtue of their relationship to a chosen individual head. I think Christians are spoken of as “chosen” in exactly the same way, only the chosen head for us is Christ, and the relationship is faith rather than fleshly descent.

          1. DD says:

            Thanks for the reply Caleb, that helps.
            If I understand your view correctly then the gospel is really good news for all, not only for a few elect from eternity. But all are welcome and God really wants to save all.

          2. DD says:

            About galatians 1 again, it says Paul was set apart (for what?), called (for what?) and God was pleased to reveal his Son in him (salvation?) and make him a light for the gentiles (vocation). Is this then about vocation or salvation, i find this hard to see because the set apart and called can also refer to his vocation (that’s what’s the chapter is all about), but still it could mean salvation chosen for etc. How do you look at that?

  3. XZY says:

    Hello nerd :-), read the article above and also the replies. You talk in a way about the 1 Thes. 1:4 text but to me it seems to talk about Paul knowing they where chosen, because the gospel came in power and deep conviction. Isn’t that talking about a different sort election and that God really is choosing people here? Or what are thoughts that this isnt the case over here?

So what do you think?