So there's a great little site found here. It outlines the various views of election. Most have heard of Calvinism and Arminianism. The debate is actually a bit more extensive, with various Calvinistic positions. I'm going to highlight some of the most adopted positions.
But first I think it is important to say a little bit about why I think this issue is important. The term "election" appears all over the New Testament. It refers to those who will attain salvation. Grasping a better understanding on what this involves (God's role, the individual's role, etc.) will strengthen the witness of the Church, as assurance of one's salvation has a motivating effect. Also, knowing God's intent for saving people, and why we even find ourselves in this situation, can speak to God's character, and the purpose for creation and existence and offer a pretty coherent explanation for why Christian experience is so "diverse" in its presentation.
So let's get to it.
- God creates
- God permits the Fall of humanity
- God provides salvation for all
- God calls all to salvation
- God elects those who believe (contingent on the person's choice
Now there is a condition to God's provided salvation: any who choose to believe in the crucified Christ as Lord and Savior are saved... This begs the question, was Charles Finney right in saying one can will to desire, thus seek, God apart from the Lord revealing Himself to the person (See the concluding remarks on the issue of free will below for my answer to this)?
The distinguishing aspect of Arminianism lies in the thought that the opportunity of salvation for any given person is contingent on that person's will to choose God and his gift of grace (salvation). Said differently, the human controls his or her own fate, since the determining factor is solely in his or her power.
Now the Scriptures have certain passages that do not mesh well with this position. Romans 9-11 is one such passage. Arminianists interpret these chapters regarding the Elect and God's purposes for it by defining election in a unique way. They see Romans 9-11 as having a distinction between election to salvation and election to service or function. So when Esau is hated, and his fate determined even before being born or doing good or bad, God's lack of election is for Esau's function/service, having no factor on his salvation. They would still posit that Esau (let's avoid the issue of pre-Jesus humans and the weird question of how they relate to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and use Esau as a type, one way to describe one's role/characteristic/etc.) could choose salvation even though he was not elect. Election is an issue of service to God. I will come back to this interpretation later.
Supralapsarian View -
- God elects some, reprobates the rest
- God creates
- God permits the Fall
- God provides salvation for the elect
- God calls the elect to salvation
Notice the Elect are chosen before creation occurred. Why? To what purpose does this serve? I believe this act best illustrates God's authority and majesty, establishing His rightful Sovereign choice to save whomever He pleases. The logical questions such a statement arouse are, "Why should/must God have to decide? Is there anything at stake if God does not make the choice? If He does not make the choice, but rather the human does, is there a challenge to God's authority?"
- God creates
- God permits the Fall
- God elects some, passes over the rest
- God provides salvation for the elect
- God calls the elect to salvation
The difference between Infra- and Supra- positions is over the sequence of events. The Infralapsarian position does not see a need in having God choose to save before the Fall, but rather the election is a response or reaction to the Fall. Supralapsarianism is unique in that God begins with this act, highlighting His Sovereign Authority. One Arminian attempt at reconciling the Supra- position's biblical accuracy with their need to maintain human authority is to say that God's early election is based on His foresight of their choice to choose. Here we must come back to the Esau issue. What is most valued is the idea of human autonomy, apart from God's influence. I cannot read Romans 9-11 as election to service, divorced from impacting salvation, just as I cannot justify saying that God foreknew the person's choice, thus electing them based on the human's decision. The phrasing makes it clear: "for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS but because of Him who calls...I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION" (Romans 9:11, 15 emphasis mine). Now I edited out some text, but I did not change the pericope's meaning; this is all a single thought. The purpose that God chose Jacob and not Esau was to ensure His choice was the decisive factor, not works, in whom He would have mercy/compassion on and whom He wouldn't (all need mercy for all are depraved, just not all will be shown mercy/compassion). This text makes it clear that human merit has little place in this matter of election (shall we just define the "elect" as those God purposes to have mercy/compassion on?).
The Issue of Free Will (i.e. Human Agency)
We could benefit from addressing God's permitting of Evil (The Fall). We say that God has no hint of evil, and rightly so. The existence of evil, however, must have an origin. If it did not come from God, from where did it? The most adopted and logical explanation is found in the idea of free will. If created beings, made perfect and reflective of a sovereign God, free and perfect in His own right, is given the choice to rebel or remain obedient, God would not be the author of Evil, but rather the creature would be, if they so chose to rebel. This meshes very well with the Arminian position because it speaks to the power given to the person. It is a bit more messy in trying to fit it with the Supra- position; but in my opinion it is possible.
Now I claim one is a fool who denies the reality of humans having choice. We are free to choose from varying options. So the tension of choosing God and God electing one for salvation (regardless if the person wishes for the contrary) needs to be addressed. This is the debate over Theodore Beza's "Irresistible Grace" (from TULIP). This concept concerns itself with the notion that one does not have a free will if in fact God's grace is irresistible. If one cannot resist it, one does not have a choice. God's will trumps that of the human's. If this happens, then, they [Arminians] argue that God must be responsible for the creation of Evil. If God forces one's hand toward good, then naturally, those He does not force toward good will veer toward evil by default, essentially making God responsible for evil by neglecting. They argue that since God cannot be evil and He would have to be if He was responsible for its creation, then the Supra- position cannot be accurate.
Allow me to give an alternative interpretation. Can God permit one of His creature's to have an independent will, apart from the mandate of God's Sovereignty? Our experience indeed seems to suggest just that, where we are not magically pulled one way toward God as if there were an invisible string. Can God present a message of love and hope through Christian representatives to a person, one with the choice to choose it or not? Again, our experience seems to suggest so. We see some that immediately take the message with rejoicing; others take a while to warm to the message, sometimes over decades; still others never embrace the message. If the message is eventually accepted, it is done so because it would seem foolish to not. If it is rejected, it is because the person chose so.
That is all from the perspective of the recipient. Now consider the Presenter's perspective (given that God usually uses those whom have embraced the message to some degree, the ultimate source of the message, the author of it, is God through Christ and the Holy Spirit). God impresses on the recipient a message that illustrates the goodness of the Source. If God is infinitely great, and this is reflected in the message, then there should be an irresistible nature to the message of grace. How, then, can one choose not to embrace God, for surely there are those who do not? There are three possible explanations: God is, then, not infinitely great, or the message was inadequately presented, or He indeed did have an electing purpose and did not choose this particular person. I believe the two last options occur often, with an inadequate presentation explaining why some take a while to embrace the message; the first is just ludicrous. Throughout this entire time, the choice is the person's, yet God maintains His choice. God is not frustrated or thwarted by one's slow acceptance of His grace, given He elects them and they do not respond immediately. He understands that His human ambassadors are broken and inadequate to represent Him. He is no less glorious, but more so for that very reason (of using a handicap of depraved humanity to propagate His gospel). And God cannot be held responsible for His infinite greatness and irresistibility. It is His choice to sufficiently display that to some. I equate it to a boy who, having several battery-operated toys, chooses to install some with batteries but not others. Is the boy evil for neglecting some toys over others? Do the toys have an inherent worth or right equal to that of the boy? God, in not choosing someone, is not doing anything evil. The evilness (or rather, depravation of source) cannot be rightly transferred to Him but must remain on the human (that is their state according to their own choice, say to deny their need for batteries); the toy's immobility remains its own shortcoming, not the boy's. Likewise it is the human who responds according to his or her will whether they choose God (or neglect their need for grace). The reality, then, appears that decisions over salvation are a collaboration of wills, where God wills some to salvation, and because of His irresistible nature, they respond independently with acceptance; those not elected are left to their own will, and independently reject God (c.f. Romans 3:10-18).
Yet, the original sin needs to be examined. Adam and Eve were perfect creatures, without fault. God saw them as "very good" and He would not say such a thing if there was any hint of deficiency in their nature. I think the phrasing provided by the website is most useful; God permitted the Fall. He did not cause it; He did not force their hand, but offered opportunity to rebel, a quite needed option for free will to exist lest they truly be automatons. The existence of evil in the human nature resulted from the will of humans, not God.
The existence of evil originally, in the serpent, whom we identify as Satan, is another matter. I think it is most relevant to this discussion to ask "how did Satan happen to become evil?" And if he is one and the same as Lucifer, the fallen angel, how could a creature quite different from that of humans fall from grace, for they are described as not having a free will, but restrained to do the bidding of their Master?
I think one needs to start with the assumption that God is, in fact, terribly awesome, completely sovereign and accountable to no one. He can do as He pleases, do what He pleases, only bound by His own nature, fully perfect and good. What if God, desiring to display His infinite greatness, conspired a plan to convey His glorious Holiness, set apart completely from anything that can ever be? What if the only way to display this was by contrasting it to something altogether different? He could create a perfect creature, similar in nature to Himself but not equal, thus capable of corruption. And in His wisdom, He could grant volition to that creature, opening opportunity for rebellion. I believe this is how it occurred. God permitted Lucifer to fall from grace, to have him challenge God for the right to reign, in a sense setting up a competition over worthiness.
Would it not, then, be completely logical to conclude that the supralapsarian position most aligns with this scenario? God elects before everything else occurs, because He anticipates that their choice for God will adequately display His worthiness, as He simply has to reveal glimpses of His nature to the elect and they respond. His Glory is displayed in their choice; His original intent is accomplished. His wisdom is proven in His plan (Ephesians 3:10). And what God most desires, that of having Himself known, considers it right (i.e. just, or righteous even... the opposite of evil) to have Himself displayed in contrast to the corruption and depravity of humanity and angelic rebellion. A sovereign God, who has the authority to determine right from wrong, must be trusted as more capable of discerning righteousness over a depraved human (see my next post