Election – We’ve seen this before
Having been raised Catholic, hearing that salvation was not dependent on my works but by faith alone was not just good news but the best news I’d ever heard. You know what’s also pretty great news? That the faith that saves is faith in God, not in every single orthodox doctrine of the church. Jesus didn’t say, believe in salvation by faith alone and you will be saved. He said, believe in me.
So I’m grateful that if I err in what I believe about any number of doctrines, it doesn’t put my salvation at risk. One of those from whom I’ve learned truths like this is Greg Koukl and his Stand to Reason ministry. STR is one of my go-to resources, as you can see on the right, and I’ve been listening to Greg’s podcasts for quite a while. (If you’re an amateur apologist like I am, you’ve GOT to get his book Tactics.) Greg’s a really smart guy and a great communicator, but I disagree with him on the doctrine of election. He’s of the Reformed persuasion and I the Arminian. Still we are both saved. Thank God. I wouldn’t want Greg to be lost. 😉
#STRask is one of Greg’s podcasts in which he and co-host Amy Hall take questions through Twitter using that hashtag. So a few months ago I tweeted him this question: “Greg, what’s your opinion on the doctrine of election as primarily Christocentric and corporate and secondarily individual and only as we by faith are ‘in Christ’?” He responded as graciously as he does to all callers and questioners, but his argument did not move me at all towards his position and I’d like to explain why.
I think Greg represented the Arminian view well, and I’ve transcribed his entire response here: Greg Koukl #STRask June 4, 2018, or you can listen to the podcast here. Basically, the Arminian position is that God does not elect individuals but the church, so that all who freely believe and trust in Christ thereby become part of the elect. In his response, Greg went first to Ephesians 1, where Paul repeatedly references our salvation as being “in Christ” or “in him,” as one of the offered proof texts for the Arminian position. But he says, “I don’t see how ‘he chose us in him’ means that we’re chosen if we get in to him. I think that he is the one who chose us and he placed us in him.” He says that the passage “strikes me as not being able to fit into this paradigm of the corporate deal happening. But all of these verses fit perfectly into, I think, a standard Reformed understanding of election.”
To demonstrate how, I believe, Ephesians 1 does fit the “paradigm of the corporate” understanding of election, I offer the following rewording of the passage in question, as we might find coming from the lips or pen of an Old Testament Jew.
Blessed be God, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Abraham. Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us to adoption as his people through Abraham. And in him we have the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. In Abraham we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose, who works all things at the counsel of his will.
Christians are “in Christ” under the New Covenant. But, of course, there was first an Old Covenant, and that covenant also was one of election. God chose/elected a people to belong to him, through one man…Abraham. He didn’t choose individuals and then place them into Israel. He chose Abraham and promised the blessings to all who would descend from him or convert to Judaism. So a Jew could say that God “chose us in him” where “us” refers to the Jews as a people and “him” is Abraham, and not at all mean that God chose the Jews on an individual basis, the same way that Paul uses the expression to refer to the church being chosen in Christ. We even have God saying that nations are blessed “in” Abraham in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? – Genesis 18:17-18
Of course, the chosen people, Israel, and the chosen people, the church, are not completely analogous because most Jews were counted among the chosen by birth and Christians are counted among the chosen not by birth but by faith. Those Jews who, like Abraham, were counted righteous by their faith are then doubly chosen. It seems to me that “from the foundation of the world” God had elected two chosen peoples. The Israelites, fathered by Abraham, to whom, as Paul says in Romans 9, “belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises…the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all,” are the chosen “according to the flesh.” The church, those who are “in Christ” by faith, whether they lived under the Old Covenant or the New, are God’s chosen people according to the Spirit.
Another important consideration regarding election under the New Covenant is the scriptural teaching of Jesus himself being the chosen one.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Isaiah 42:1a
And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Luke 9:35
For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 1 Peter 2:6
This reality appears to give support to the corporate view because if Jesus is the focus of God’s election, it follows naturally and logically that those who identify themselves with and are therefore “in” him are considered chosen and elect as well…because of their identification with him. They become elect when they identify with/believe in him, but not before. The Reformed view which has God electing individuals and then “attaching” them, as Greg Koukl puts it, to Jesus the Elect One, seems less reasonable and simple than the Arminian view.
There’s so much more that can be said about the opposing views of election, of course, and I’ve addressed them before here, here, and here. A number of scriptural passages seem to support the Reformed view and in Greg’s response to my request for his input he mentioned a few of them. Next time I’m going to address those.