9th December 2006

Blog :: Election and the Sovereignty of God

I have been meaning for some time to write on the theological topics I have been thinking about lately. I recently left a lengthy comment on a friend's xanga site about the role of women in the Church with a particularly incendiary hypothesis about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 without (alas) drawing much comment. I intend to return to this topic at some point in the future.

I've also been thinking about hashing out some of my thoughts in regards to the issues of Election/Predestination and the Sovereignty of God. I would say that my own theological stream (Anabaptist->Pietist->Brethren) has mostly been robustly Arminian in theology when they have thought in those sorts of sytematic theological terms at all. I have an appreciation for some aspects of Reformed theology, however, and of course appreciate greatly many theologians and Christian writers and thinkers whose theology would be much closer to Calvinism than my own.

My thoughts on this issue have been spurred partly by Scot McKnight's recent reviews of Roger Olson's Arminian Theology (which, I should add, was challenging enough that I think I shall be adding this book to my library at some point). You can read all 9 of the posts in the series by Scot at jesuscreed.org, but I particularly have been thinking about post #5:

Myth #4: the heart of Arminianism is belief in free will. Nonsense, Olson argues in his must-read Arminian Theology. The heart of Arminian theology is the character of God, God's goodness, and its system yearns to glorify God by exalting his goodness.

The fundamental tension here is that Arminians think Calvinists must make God the author of evil and sin - since God (whether supra or infralapsarian) predestines humans to sin. Arminianism begins with God's essential goodness and derives free will from that; it does not begin with the necessity of free will.

This gets fairly close to my own reasons for rejecting Calvinism in its TULIP sense. It does seem to logically lead to a depiction of a God who creates a flawed humanity, discards the majority of it, and declares himself righteous in preserving some of it. This is not a God who is righteous in any sense I can relate to - the best I can do for such a God is cower in fear. This fails to match the Biblical portrait of God who even in the Old Testament is gracious and merciful, desiring to extend mercy to His people. And of course as most fully revealed in the Incarnation, God is indeed revealed and typified by His gracious love for all.

I should add, of course, that though this depiction seems to me the logical end of of deterministically Calvinistic thought, it certainly isn't the only destination for Reformed thinkers. Barth's appreciation for election and the sovereignty of God led him (as far as I can tell; Barth remains nearly inpenetrable to me) to a position of universalism or something like it. This is indeed consonant with with a high view of God's sovereignty (He ultimately predestines everyone, regardless of the choices they themselves may make). This solution to the conumdrum, however, is philosophically pleasing but exegetically (and perhaps morally) less satisfying.

I have been left, than, agreeing that predestination and election are in the Bible but not always certain how they play themselves out. In reading scriptures like Romans 9 I have noticed and emphasized the Corporate nature of election (Paul is not answering the question "Why does God predestine some individuals to Hell and some to Heaven", rather he is grappling with the Election of Israel and the Election now of the Gentiles who have been incorporated by the Faith of Jesus Christ into His people.) I have tended to refer to foreknowledge to explain predestination, but in general, I just haven't focused very much on the doctrine of Election.

It was with great satisfaction than that I read blip's recent post on Rethinking Divine Election. Blip (also noting a certain initial reluctance to embrace election) explores the possibility that the whole Pelagius/Augustinean debate, while rightly decided, was actually a debate upon the wrong questions. Resetting this debate lessens the tension between the Arminian/Calvinist perspectives (at least for me). I won't spoil your fun by recapping the article except to say that traditional arguments about Election which usually devolve into personal salvation arguments miss the narrative arc through which Election is invariably discussed in the Scriptures, do not bring us in tighter focus upon the person of Jesus, and fail to note the gracious purposes of God in Election. The purpose of God in Election throughout scripture is consistently so that the Elect people of God may be the means of blessing all people everywhere.

blip's post is well worth reading on its own merits. Elevating it to jewel like status, however, was the pointer to an article by Telford Work titled Annunciation as Election. Very appropriately for the Advent season, Work examines Election, ultimately, in the light of Mary as God's choice to incarnate grace into the world. I cannot recommend this (lengthy and somewhat academic) article strongly enough to those of you (jcl, nothing_to_say) who are inclined to such things! Again, I can don't wish to spoil the pleasure by revealing too much, but for those of you who know me it is perhaps sufficient to marvel at an argument that increases my appreciation for the doctrine of Election by a Marian argument! I was also impressed that the resultant ideas manage to criticise more traditional Calvinistic formulations for being overly Anthropocentric!

Seriously, block out a half an hour and go by blip to get primed and then go read Telford Work's Anunciation and Election.

Posted on December 9th 2006, 12:24 AM