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.