Election, Etc. — Some Thoughts on Election Apart from Sin

One of the central claims of my position on election is that God’s purpose in election could have been achieved apart from the Fall. In saying this I depart from the classic Reformed positions on the subject, all of which appear to place the Fall in some sort of necessary relationship to God’s electing decree.

Both the supralapsarian, the infralapsarian and other options tend to presume some form of necessary relationship between the electing decree and the decree of the Fall. Reformed people generally debate the character of the necessary relationship between the decree for the Fall and the decree of election, not the existence of such a relationship. I am denying that the decree of the Fall is either a necessary precondition or a necessary consequence of the decree of election.

I would imagine that if we were to tease out the implicit logic underlying the claim that there is a necessary relationship between the decree of election and the existence of sin, a number of the following arguments would emerge.

Firstly, there would be the claim that election is, by its very nature, soteriological in character. Election is God’s choice to save someone and would be meaningless if there was nothing from which man needed to be saved. Sin is therefore a necessary presupposition for any consistent doctrine of election. Secondly, there would be the claim that since election is eternal, but obviously not universal, sin is necessary. Sin is necessary to ensure that those who are not elect can be justly condemned.

I will begin by dealing with the second objection. Within the second objection there are a number of hidden assumptions that need to be brought to light. There is the assumption that it is a fixed number of individuals that are the direct object of God’s electing decree. If I am correct and individuals (apart from Christ) are the indirect, rather than the direct, objects of God’s electing decree, then no single individual is fixed in the position of ‘elect’ or ‘unelect’. People become elect when they are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit in history. No one is elect outside of Christ.

Within the second objection the claim made by the first objection is also contained as a hidden assumption. It is assumed that election and reprobation are the only options. I believe that there is biblical basis to doubt this. God’s election confers a great privilege upon the object of His choice. However, if a person has not been elected that does not mean that God has rejected them. The Gentile believer in the OT was not elect in the same way as the Israelite, but that did not mean that he was rejected by God. Isaac was chosen and Ishmael was not; Ishmael was still blessed by God. The fact that Esau was rejected by God for the purpose that He had determined to fulfil through Jacob did not mean that Esau was rejected altogether.

Is election necessarily soteriological in character? Is election always election to be saved from something? I do not believe that it need be. We can speak of Christ as the Elect One, without implying that He needed to be saved from anything (I could also mention the ‘elect’ angels — 1 Timothy 5:21). In calling Him the Elect One we are simply claiming that He is the One through whom God has chosen to fulfil His purpose and that He is the One in whom the Father takes peculiar delight. I believe that election more often than not means much the same thing when it is used of us in Scripture.

I see a number of deep problems with the position that presents election as an essentially soteriological fact. I am of the persuasion that there is continuity between God’s purposes in creation and God’s purposes in redemption. If election is essentially soteriological God must either have had a different purpose in creation, or His ‘good’ purpose for creation was always that it should fall. The first position is one that I find quite unpersuasive; the second is one that I find morally intolerable.

The claim that the only way in which God could achieve His good purpose of election was by means of the Fall is deeply problematic. If this were in fact the case, God would have to positively will evil in order for good to come. Supralapsarians will struggle with this problem more than infralapsarians. Infralapsarians have problems of their own — a creation/redemption dualism — as God’s purposes in redemption are detached from His purposes in creation.

I am a supralapsarian, inasmuch as I believe that it was always God’s intention that His Son should come and offer up the creation in Himself, even apart from sin (I am not a regular supralapsarian, as I deny that election necessarily entails any form of reprobation, or even the Fall). I do not believe that this purpose only kicked in after the Fall. I believe the common Reformed claim that such a position is speculative (also found in Calvin, if I remember correctly) is symptomatic of deep-rooted theological problems.

If Christ would not have come had Adam not sinned, we will incline to hold the doctrine of the felix culpa, believing that God must have willed the Fall in order to achieve the greater good of sending His Son and uniting men with Him. We will also, as David Bentley Hart observes, end up with Jesus being an accidental identity (relative to creation) assumed by the Second Person of the Trinity, rather than having the incarnate Christ at the centre of God’s purpose in creation. God created because He had determined to send His Son in the likeness of human flesh. I believe that only such a position can do justice to the strong statements that one finds in the NT concerning the relationship between the incarnate Christ and the creation of the world.

As we look through the Bible I believe that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that God’s most fundamental purpose for humanity does not involve salvation from sin at all. Furthermore, I believe that a decree of election can fit perfectly into the purpose that God would have for a hypothetical world without sin.

James Jordan has argued that God’s most basic purpose for humanity is that of bringing humanity to full maturity. God wants to glorify that which He created. God’s purpose is that of bringing the good creation to perfection.

As we read the Bible, we can see many hints of such a purpose (most of the following sentences are taken directly from some of my comments in my previous election post). Behind the story of salvation from sin, there is a story of mankind’s growth to maturity and glory. The biblical story starts off with Adam naked in a garden. We don’t just wear clothing to cover our nakedness, but to glorify us (God is clothed with glory, even though He has no shameful nakedness to cover). Adam was naked because he was a baby (not biologically, but in terms of covenant history). The story of Scripture ends with mankind being clothed in the glory of the resurrection body.

Adam started out under the tutelage of angels and being forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story of Scripture speaks of mankind being exalted above the angels, to rule with God in the highest place (Hebrews 1-2) and of mankind growing into the knowledge of good and evil (the prohibition on the tree was temporary; the knowledge of good and evil is a good thing, but Adam and Eve weren’t ready for it).

The story of Scripture starts off in a garden and speaks of precious resources outside the garden. The point is that mankind has to bring these in to glorify (clothe) the garden. At the end of Scripture we see a garden city, clothed with the whole creation, from gold (from the ground), to pearls (from the ocean).

Scripture is a story of God’s people growing into the full rights and privileges of sonship. These privileges were held back from Adam until he was ready. He wanted to snatch them prematurely and was cast out. At the end of Scripture we see humanity having attained its maturity in Christ and having received the adoption of sons.

As humanity grows up, its teaching is similar to that which any of us receive. If I learn the piano I have to start off with basic rules. Gradually, as I internalize the rules, I can apply wisdom, reaching the stage where I can even improvize a little. There then comes a stage where I can write my own pieces of music. The Law—Wisdom—Creation pattern is a pattern of natural human development, even apart from disobedience.

We see this pattern in Scripture as we move from the Law, to the kingly books of wisdom, to the prophetic literature (prophets tear down old world orders and establish new ones with their words). The whole man comes in Christ. Christ is humanity come to it fullness. Although the Law was given on account of sin, I do not believe that this was the only reason it was given. It seems to me that Law would have had a necessary role to play in training mankind to maturity and wisdom, even in a world without sin.

History is also a story of the maturation of humanity as the daughter who is to be the bride. The story of Scripture starts with a man who initiates history and ends with the marriage of the bride as the consummation of history. The story of Scripture is also a story of the growth of faith. As you read the text of Scripture you will recognize that each character is called to go beyond those who were before them in some way. Abraham inherits the story of faith prior to him, but must take it further. Same with Isaac, same with Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, etc. The story of faith is consummated when Faith in its fullness and maturity finally comes in Christ (Galatians 3:23-25; Hebrews 11:1—12:2).

My point in all of this is that election has to do with God’s purpose to bring humanity into the fullness of life in Christ, not primarily with salvation from sin. Election has to do with the telos for which mankind was created — to be a bride for the Son, to enjoy the full rights and priviliges of sonship, etc.

Christ would have come even if Adam had not sinned. Preparing humanity as a Bride for His Son was not God’s ‘Plan B’, nor was sin a necessary prerequisite for this purpose. Forming a glorified, mature humanity with the full privileges of sonship in Christ was always God’s deepest and greatest intention. Mankind’s maturation process has been a lot more painful than it would have been had Adam not sinned, but there still would have been a maturation process.

If Adam had not sinned, Christ would have come as the Bridegroom for the Bride. He would have come to bring in Faith in its fulness, offering up the creation to God in Himself. He would have come to bring man into the fulness of the inheritance that God had promised for them and give mankind the right to rise above the angels who were its guardians in its infancy. He would have brought mankind through the various stages of maturity to the stage of glorification and resurrection. The first creation was always designed to end in New Creation, and it was always God’s intention that it should be Christ who would bring this New Creation in.

Much of which we are apt to classify under ’soteriology’ doesn’t necessarily entail salvation from anything at all (e.g. election, adoption, glorification, even sanctification and justification). If Adam had not sinned, God would still have elected. He would have elected to form a new glorified humanity in His Son, with the full privileges and inheritance of sons who have come of age. God’s election would still have been gracious and necessary had Adam not sinned. It would have been necessary because the election would be to the privileged status of the full rights of sonship. It would also be God’s election of a humanity as a Bride for His Son.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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19 Responses to Election, Etc. — Some Thoughts on Election Apart from Sin

  1. Jeff Meyers says:

    Interesting, productive thoughts, Alistair. Part of the problem will be that people will hear you rejecting God’s absolute control over creation. Although, the distinction is arbitrary and not always followed, some have spoken of election and predestination, the later being the word used to describe God’s generic sovereignty over his creation. God’s creation establishes the fact that the all the stuff and every event of this world is absolutely dependent upon God. That fact need not lead us to speculate on “decrees” and their “order” however. Part of what you are doing it unpacking how Reformed speculation and narrow theologizing about these things has hidden theological assumptions about God’s purpose for mankind and the world. It’s a package deal. Does that make sense?

  2. Elbert says:

    Thanks for these series of posts Al.
    I wonder, I know that in the Afscheiding in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, Klaas Schilder actually was not taken serious (enough) on this subject. But I do wonder what his view on the subject was, I’ll read up on it. You’ll hear from me.

  3. Jon says:

    Just a couple of thoughts:

    “Christ is humanity come to it fullness.” Could be seen as approaching degree theology. I understand what you are saying here, that Christ is the climax of humanity. However, if Christ is no more than the pinnacle of humanity, then Christ differs from us only in degree (you know what I mean… Holmes made sure of that!)

    “My point in all of this is that election has to do with God’s purpose to bring humanity into the fullness of life in Christ, not primarily with salvation from sin.”

    Which, in my mind at any rate, seems merely to defer the aspect you described as the necessity of the fall: “I am denying that the decree of the Fall is either a necessary precondition or a necessary consequence of the decree of election.” However, God is omniscient and, therefore, knew that the Fall would occur. Therefore, whatever plan God made for the incarnation of Christ must have been formulated in the knowledge of the decree of the fall. Logically, therefore, any plan God makes, must take the Fall into account and, therefore, the Fall and the incarnation Christ cannot be seen as mutually exclusive. I understand that your point is that God has no ‘plan B’. However, the question of the Fall still remains. I would be interested to see how you would answer this in a way which was not “morally intolerable”.

  4. Al says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I agree with you. I am continually told that I am undermining God’s universal and comprehensive sovereignty, something which I hold to strongly. My big problem is with views that make every event essential to God’s purpose. I believe that every event is ordained by God, but that not every event is necessary to the fulfilment of His purpose. I have been amazed at how hard it has been to convey this seemingly straightforward point.

  5. Al says:

    Jon,

    Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I could be rightly accused of degree Christology if all that I had said was that Christ was the pinnacle of humanity. However, I have also made clear that Christ is unique in His role as the divine Bridegroom and as the One in whom the Father wills to gather all things. I could also add that it was always God’s intention to ensure the fullest fellowship possible between Himself and His creation, which is something that could only take place within One who was not merely an über-human, but was fully divine.

    As regards God’s foreknowledge of the Fall, I believe that God not only knew that the Fall would take place, but also determined that it would take place.

    However, my argument is that Christ was always God’s primary purpose for the creation. The Incarnation is a fact more basic than that of creation, for God only created because He had determined to incarnate His Son. My argument relies on a distinction between God’s purpose and what God ordains. Not everything that God ordains is necessary or even consistent with His purpose. God ordained the Fall, but the Fall was neither necessary nor consistent with God’s good purpose for His creation.

    My claim is that, if the Fall were necessary to God’s good purpose for His creation, God would be unjust. However, the Fall was not necessary to God’s purpose, even though God ordained that it would take place.

  6. Ben Myers says:

    Thanks for such an interesting post, Al. Have you read Robert W. Jenson’s book Alpha and Omega? Jenson’s interpretation of election (and of Karl Barth) has some definite parallels to what you’re saying here.

    In this post, though, I wonder if you’re placing too much weight on the Genesis 1-3 stories. After all, in spite of its prominence in some theological traditions, the story of the Fall is hardly at the basis or centre of the biblical narrative. And it’s doubtful that Gen. 1-3 is meant to be taken as a statement that there was once a prelapsarian Golden Age. In Karl Barth’s words, the point of Gen. 3 is that the first man was immediately the first sinner — as soon as human beings exist, they discover that they have already fallen.

    Anyway, I’m not suggesting that this undermines your basic approach to election. But I wonder if your approach could be worked out via a more historically nuanced interpretation of the biblical story; and I wonder if you could develop your argument without introducing the scholastic abstraction of “if Adam had not sinned…”

  7. Bill says:

    Thanks for these posts. They are enticingly interesting. I have one comment. Your idea of election apart from sin seems to heavily rely on “the knowledge of good and evil” itself being a good thing for humanity. In light of this, I am curious how you consider Bonhoeffer’s idea of “knowlege of good and evil” in Ethics.

    Bonhoeffer says that knowledge of good and evil is separation from God. The fall is mankind stealing the place of the creator (the origin) from God and claiming it for himself. Man knows himself through himself (a false origin) rather than through God (his true origin) and “the knowledge of good and evil” signifies this because man should know not good and evil but his origin. In this conception “the knowledge of good and evil” would not be right for mankind at any point whether in humanity’s infancy or maturity. This is quite different from “the knowledge of good and evil” being a good thing that was merely pursued prematurely.

    How do you consider this concept of “the knowledge of good and evil”?

    (in the edition of Ethics I have this topic is at the very beginning of Part I: The Love of God and the Decay of the World)

  8. Al says:

    Ben,

    Thank you for your comments. No, I haven’t read Jenson’s book. I might get it out of the library sometime this semester.

    As regards Genesis 1-3, I would be inclined to regard these chapters as quite fundamental for just about all that follows. Each of the three chapters, in my mind, has a firm claim to being listed among the top 20 most important biblical passages. In these chapters the world model and symbolism that is used throughout the rest of the Scriptures is first introduced to us. Chapter 1 is especially important in this respect. The creation pattern is alluded to dozens of times elsewhere in Scripture (building of the tabernacle and the structure of John’s gospel being two notable examples).

    The same can be said of chapter 2, which introduces us to the roles of the genders and to themes that will be worked upon throughout the rest of the biblical text. It also introduces us to the idea of maturation (if we are reading carefully). Once again, it provides essential background for later parts of the Scriptures (the latter chapters of Revelation, for example).

    Chapter 3 is just as important. It is frequently alluded to elsewhere in the Scriptures and the details of the chapter are treated as significant for later theological reflection (for example, the difference between Adam’s sin and Eve’s sin in 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

    However we understand the historicity of these chapters, I believe that we must treat the Scriptures on the terms on which they are presented to us. I am convinced that Genesis 1-3 is presented to us as a text in which even the fine detail is important for theological reflection. I am not willing to go down the minimalistic interpretative road that Barth offers here, although I can appreciate its appeal.

    I do not believe that the text of Genesis 1-3 teaches us about a prelapsarian ‘Golden Age’. If it does, it hardly even lasted a day. As regards the ‘scholastic abstraction’ of a sinless Adam, I agree that such questions can easily veer off in the direction of idle and bizarre speculation. However, I believe that the Scriptures give us quite a lot of material upon which we can base a study of this question. It seems to me that the possibility of a sinless Adam ought to play an important role in our understanding of the first three chapters of Genesis. These chapters present themselves to us for close theological reflection on such questions and it would be sad if we were reluctant to accept their invitation due to questions about their historicity and reliability.

  9. Al says:

    Bill,

    I can’t agree with Bonhoeffer’s reading of the ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’. Whilst I used to hold something similar myself, my mind on this matter has changed as I have further reflected on the biblical text. You might find the comments in the ‘lecture 3’ (and some of ‘lecture 2’) section of this post to be a helpful treatment of some of the biblical material that is pertinent to this question. In both the OT and the NT, the Knowledge of Good and Evil is presented to us as a good thing, associated with kingly judgment, that comes to the mature at the appropriate time (e.g. 2 Samuel 14:17; 1 Kings 3:9; Hebrews 5:14). However, if it is snatched before the right time, it can bring a curse.

  10. Joseph says:

    Al,

    On the one hand, you go into great detail discussing how things ‘might have gone’ had man not sinned. In fact, you specifically said that you have a big problem with the belief that God ordained the fall of man, because “God would have to positively will evil in order for good to come”, and you think that would be “morally intolerable”.

    But on the other hand, you said, “I believe that every event is ordained by God.”

    Please explain to me how these statements of yours fit together. Do you really believe every event is ordained by God? If so, then would you agree that the fall of man was an event, and that God ordained it?

    Second, please help me understand why it would be “morally intolerable” for God to ordain the fall, for God to will evil that good may come. After all, God does this repeatedly, all throughout Scripture, as this article plainly demonstrates:

    “The Dark Side of Holiness”
    http://www.biblelighthouse.com/sovereignty/darkside.htm

    I look forward to your response.

    In Christ,
    Joseph

  11. Al says:

    Joseph,

    Thank you for your question. I am distinguishing between what God ordains and what is His good purpose, between His moral will and His permission. I do not believe that they are the same thing. I believe that, when the Scriptures speak about God’s ‘will’ or His ‘purpose’, something far narrower than God’s ordination of all events is being referred to.

    Whilst I believe that God is behind every event in history, so that nothing takes place apart from God’s ordination, I believe that the distinction of divine permission from divine will is important. There is a tension between the way that God wills things to be and the way that He ordains or permits them to be. I believe that Calvinist theologians have generally been in danger of seeking to dissolve this tension.

    Calvin equates God’s ordination of events with His will. I am claiming that God ordains all events, but am denying that it is appropriate to speak of all events as outcomes of God’s will and purpose. God works out His purpose through and in spite of evil events, but this does not imply that God ‘willed’ the evil events themselves.

    Within my post I was seeking to argue that, although God ordained the Fall, it is inappropriate to speak of God willing the Fall. He permitted the Fall. Had He ‘willed’ the Fall we would have an irreconciliable conflict between what God willed and His revealed moral will. God revealed that He did not want mankind to rebel. If God’s good purpose for humanity necessitated the rebellion of Adam I believe that we have serious theological problems. God’s good purpose would necessitate a transgression of His moral will. Although we know that God ordained that the Fall would take place, we also know that this was not the way that God wanted things to be. I believe that there is a mystery and a tension here that we need to protect.

    I have skim read the article that you link to. I don’t find any great difficulty fitting any of the passages that you bring forward into my understanding. The passages that you present include examples of God’s deception of His enemies, hardening and setting apart of His enemies for destruction and God working the evil actions of wicked men for good. None of these things cause me any problems. The problem only comes when God’s will absolutely necessitates evil, which would be the case if God had willed the Fall in the sense that I denied.

    I will probably write a post directly addressing the issues that you raise some time in the next few weeks.

  12. Joseph says:

    Al,

    Thank you for your response.

    Ok, here is my question now: In what sense can a truly sovereign God “permit” anything to happen? In other words, what is the difference (in your mind) between God “ordaining” something to occur, and “willing” it to occur?

    I would agree that to “absolve” God of absolutely neccessitating the occurrence of evil, we would have to speak of some kind of “permission” on His part. However, it seems to me that if we do this, then we irrevocably negate His absolute sovereignty.

    In short: The word “permission” is irreconcilable with *absolute* sovereignty.

    For example, if God actively causes the fall of Adam and Eve (as argued by Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. in the book, “Almighty Over All”), then God’s utter sovereignty has been retained, and the word “permission” has been rejected.

    But if we say that God merely “permitted” the fall of Adam and Eve, then we shift the *cause* of the fall off God’s shoulders. However, we do this at the expense of His utter sovereignty. In doing this, we necessarily postulate that there are at least *some* things over which He has no control.

    Now, at first glance, you may disagree with my very last statement. You may say, “He had control; He just chose not to use it.” But if you say that, you miss the point. You see, the real question is this: “What *originated* such-and-such evil thought to begin with?” If you say God *originated* it, then you have to get rid of the word “permission”. But if God did NOT originate that thought, then the original CAUSE of that thought is someone/something other than God. In other words, God’s power/sovereignty did not effect the origination of that thought. Thus, the initial existence (even a foreknown existence) of that thought is controlled not by God, but by some other party.

    In this same vein of thinking, you may wish to peruse these 2 brief articles on the omnipotence of God:
    http://www.biblelighthouse.com/sovereignty/omnipotenceparadox1.htm
    http://www.biblelighthouse.com/sovereignty/omnipotenceparadox2.htm

    Just to reiterate: You cannot logically talk about a Sovereign God exercising ontological “permission”. The words “permission” and “sovereignty” simply do not mix.

    I am enjoying this discussion. I look forward to your reply.

    In Christ,
    Joseph

  13. Al says:

    Joseph,

    When an author writes a novel, he is ultimately the one who determines all that will take place, even the events that are contrary to his character. Suppose an author were to write himself into his own novel. We would have to distinguish very strongly between the senses in which the author was the willing agent behind different types of events.

    There would be events in the novel which went directly against the will of author as a protagonist within his own narrative. In what sense can we speak of these events as products of the author’s will, as he is a protagonist within his own narrative?

    I believe that such an illustration, although very limited, sheds light on the question in hand. The Scriptures almost universally present God in terms of a protagonist within His own ‘narrative’. I believe that Calvinists tend to get things backward here and emphasize what the text does not emphasize.

    By using the word ‘permission’ instead of ‘will’ when speaking about the manner in which God ordains certain evil actions I am trying to place in sharp relief the distinction between what God wills as a protagonist in the narrative of history and what God ordains as the One who ‘authors’ that narrative. I believe that common Reformed ways of distinguishing between aspects of God’s will tend to lead to confusion on this point and to a conflation of the two senses of God’s will in a way that is unhelpful.

    When the Scriptures speak about the sovereignty of God I do not believe that the primary focus is found where Calvinists are inclined to see it. The primary focus is on God’s sovereignty as something that is hard won in history (God’s sovereignty as an ‘actor’), rather than upon God’s sovereignty as His unassailable control as the One who ordains every event (God’s sovereignty as the ‘author’). If our focus is on the latter, we will tend to lose sight of the drama of the biblical narrative as the idea of such sovereignty facing any sort of obstacle or difficulty to be overcome is, frankly, hard to conceive of.

    The Bible clearly teaches that God’s will is not universally exercised. Many events take place that are contrary to God’s will. God, however, is inexorably working out His purpose in history. His will will one day be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    I am quite willing to claim that God ordains every single event that takes place. My distinction between ‘will’ and ‘permission’ needs to be understood more in terms of such analogies as the author/actor analogy which I have laid out above.

    As regards the first sin, I believe that it is very unhelpful to speak of God as the efficient cause of evil (as you seem to be doing), although God clearly ordains all that takes place. I believe that we are better off thinking of evil as an inexplicable privation, without an efficient cause. It seems to me that many Calvinists are in danger of seeking to solve something that should always be mysterious and problematic to us.

  14. Joseph says:

    Al,

    Let me see if I now understand your use of vocabulary. If I understand your personal definitions of “permission” and “will”, then we may have some agreement here.

    Are you basically just saying that God has “two wills”? In other words, are you pretty much just distinguishing between God’s “decretive will” and His “moral will”? From the perspective of “author of the story”, God actively decrees (ordains) everything that will come to pass. In agreement with Eph. 1:11, God ordains everything that comes to pass. Thus, from the perspective of “authorship”, God did decree that there would be a fall, God did decree that I would get a dent in my car a couple years ago, etc. But God’s “moral will” (a.k.a. “prescriptive will”) is different. And from the perspective of His moral will, we see God not as “author” but as “protagonist of the story”, in which we all agree that humans go against His will all the time.

    In other words, we need to distinguish whether we are speaking of God as “author” or “protagonist within His own story”. As author, He decreed every event that would ever come to pass. As protagonist, His moral will is revealed, and many sinful antagonists go against His precepts.

    Is this a fair summary of the distinctions you are making between God “ordaining” things and God “willing” things to occur?

    In Christ,
    Joseph

  15. Al says:

    Joseph,

    I think that you are right in seeing that most of our differences are terminological. However, I believe that there are important differences of emphasis to be found as well, differences which may be more substantial in character.

    A couple of points:

    1. I believe that when the Bible speak about the ‘will’ of God, at least 99.9% of the time it is referring to God’s moral and purposive will as a protagonist in history, not to His will as the ‘author’ of history. For this reason I seek to avoid using the word in the latter sense. I believe that it invites confusion in certain other areas of our thinking.

    2. I believe that Ephesians 1:11 and most of the other passages that you have mentioned in your linked articles are actually referring to the will of God as an ‘actor’ in history, rather than to His will as the ‘author’ of history (I am well aware of many limitations to this analogy, but for want of a better one I will continue to use it for the time being). Verses like Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11 refer to the fact that, even through (and in spite of) the most evil actions by men, God is working out His good purpose. Nevertheless, although we must be clear that God is working every single event to His ends, we must recognize that this ‘working of all things’ often (generally) involves an overcoming of genuine opposition to God’s will. In the face of the most radical evil and terrible suffering, God’s purpose is still successful and will ultimately openly triumph.

    God uses the weight of Sin and evil against them. This does not allow us to regard every bad thing that happens to us as if it came from God’s will. This is where my position tends to differ in the practical outworking from many popular Calvinist views. In my opinion Calvinists are often too quick to regard all the bad things that happen to us as in some sense ‘good’, because they come from God’s ‘will’. This is one of the reasons why I want to avoid the word ‘will’. I am more inclined to see certain bad things that happen as contrary to God’s will and wrestle with God to see His will overcome or work through the circumstances for good. There is always a danger that, if we use the word ‘will’ in the sense of ‘decretive will’ we will start to think that the way things are is the way that they ought to be. I want to maintain a strong (and I believe biblical) tension between the way that things are and the ways that they ought to be — the way that God would have them to be — and so I avoid the language of ‘decretive will’ in favour of the language of permission or ordaining (depending on the context).

  16. Joseph says:

    Al,

    Thank you for this interaction.

    I have another question, concerning something else you said in your blog:

    You said, “no single individual is fixed in the position of ‘elect’ or ‘unelect’.”

    In other words, you are saying that Christ is the elect one, and the body of Christ is predestined to glory. But God does *not* predestine a certain number of people to be “in Christ” (or out of Christ).

    Am I understanding you correctly?

    If so, then how does your view differ at all from classic Arminianism? After all your argument of Christ being the only “elect one” is not a new argument at all. Arminians have been using that same argument for a long time, in various articles and books.

    Or is your view different from the Arminian view of election?

    Thank you,
    Joseph

  17. Al says:

    Joseph,

    Most of the points that you raise are issues that I plan to address in more depth in future posts. Any answer that I give you now steals my own thunder to some degree.

    My view differs from the Arminian view of election as it is my firm belief that every person who is saved is saved purely because of the sovereign determination and action of God.

    My view differs from most Calvinist positions in its denial that the salvation of a particular numbered group of individuals is the direct object of God’s purpose. Whilst God is sovereign in saving some people rather than others, the identity of those people is in no way essential to the fulfilment of God’s purpose of election.

    If this is correct, then the direct object of election is Christ (the corporate person). To be elect you have to be in Christ. We only come into the state of election as we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, being translated from death to life. Whilst this deliverance is sovereignly worked out by God, the salvation of me, rather than of Joe Bloggs, is not determined by God’s electing purpose itself. My salvation is not necessary to the working out of God’s purpose of election. God could work out His purpose of election in a different way entirely.

    Election is about God’s purpose. God’s purpose is to form the body of Christ, which will involve saving particular individuals. However, God’s purpose does not dictate that certain individuals should be saved rather than others. That is where I differ from most Calvinists.

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