With this essay, we step into the most enduring debate in Christian theology. It’s all about a single word: election.
The term means to choose, as in electing a candidate. You “elected” to read this article. In theological use, the word relates to the idea that God chooses (or has chosen) a people or individuals to belong to him in a unique way.
There is no question that God “elected” Abraham and the nation he would establish so that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). Through that nation, he “elected” to bring the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7).
Here’s the question: Does God “elect” those who are lost and those who are saved? Does he choose those who will be in heaven and those who will spend eternity in hell?
Tulips and their admirers
The name most often associated with the doctrine of election is John Calvin (1509-64), a law student who broke with Roman Catholicism and became a Protestant leader in Basel and Geneva.
His Institutes of the Christian Religion are still foundational to the movement known as Reform theology, promoted especially in America by Presbyterian churches.
His “five points,” as later expounded by the Synod of Dort (1618-19), summarize his theological system:
- Total depravity: the fall affected every part of mankind, mind as well as will.
- Unconditional divine election: we do nothing to earn salvation.
- Limited atonement: Christ died only for those elected by God for salvation.
- Irresistible grace: the elect will accept the grace of God.
- Perseverance of the saints: those elected by God will not lose their salvation.
A “five-point” or “tulip” Calvinist accepts all of these assertions.
Some theologians accept four or less. (I am myself a three-point Calvinist, as I’ll explain in a moment.)
Supporters of all five points argue that God’s will cannot be defeated if he is God—if he wants one of his creation to be in heaven, that person will be in heaven. They add that, if God is sovereign over the future, he must know what choice we are going to make regarding Christ.
When opponents protest that it’s not fair of God to choose some for heaven and others for hell, they reply (correctly) that if God were fair, none would be in heaven, for all salvation is by grace.
To which the opponent answers that, while none deserve heaven, it is unfair for any to be chosen for heaven unless all are chosen.
And the debate continues.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jim Denison