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Election by Foreknowledge

Arminians hold that God elects those whom He has foreseen from before the creation of the world would freely accept His offer of Grace. I'll run through their doctrine of 'Conditional Election' and then show how it does not hold up. The main fault I see with Arminianism (especially with this issue) is that they miss some of what the Bible says and they miss the full revealed nature of God's foreknowledge and election.

(My main sources of information were the two books:
'Foundations of Pentecostal Theology' by Duffield and Van Cleave
'An Exposition of The Westminster Confession of Faith' by Robert Shaw.

Arminian View:

All of mankind deserves condemnation and eternal punishment in Hell. No-one can do anything which would have him considered worthy of salvation, so any offer by God of eternal life must be by Grace. Election is God, in His Grace, choosing in Jesus Christ (only Jesus could provide the righteousness needed) those whom He knew would accept Him.

God's election to salvation of individuals is always according to God's Foreknowledge (Rom 8:28-30; 1Pe 1:1-2). Romans 8:28-30 states: "And we know that God cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among the brethren;" (NASB) Arminians maintain that God's Foreknowledge and His Foreordainging must be distinguished. It is wrong for us to say "God foreknew because He arbitrarily determined to bring them to pass. God looks ahead to future events just as we look back upon historic events. His Foreknowledge no more changes the future than our knowledge of past events can change history.

We are chosen "in Christ Jesus" (Eph 1:3-5). Therefore God was looking at man as he is in Christ, not as man is in himself. The people whom are chosen by God are those who He saw in Christ Jesus by His Foreknowledge when He chose them. We are saved through believing, not because we believe (Eph 2:8).

*** Arminians therefore hold that God did not determine who should be in Christ, He just saw them there when He chose. Everyone is free to accept Jesus as their personal Saviour if they will. We are not only invited to accept Him, we are also urged/commanded to do so. (Heb 2:9; Acts 17:30-"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent."[NASB])

Arminians maintain that nowhere does the Bible teach predestination to damnation. This is unnecessary as all men are sinners and on their way to Hell. They say that election should never be applied to the unsaved. Election is truth for those already in Christ.

My evaluation is divided into 4 sections:

Evaluation 1 of this view

The Arminians are absolutely correct in maintaining that God's Election is according to His Foreknowledge, but they miss some of the picture. This is not surprising, it is easy to do. No-one fully grasps the mystery of God's Election to Salvation of certain sinners. But He does reveal some of His nature through the picture He gives of predestination. Although we cannot fully grasp everything of this, the Arminians seem to miss some of what God tells us about His Election of individuals.

The Arminians' stance is summed up in the paragraph beginning with ***. They come to this stance it seems by only knowing some of what the Bible teaches. By coming from an incomplete Biblical stance they get an incorrect theological view. They miss passages such as:
Romans 9:15-16 "For He says to Moses, 'I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.' So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." (NASB Capitals OT quote);
Eph 2:4-9 "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."(NASB) and;
Rom 9:10-13 "And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 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, it was said to her, THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER."(NASB - Capitals is OT quote)

Romans 9:16 is very clear, it states very plainly that God's decision on whom He chooses to have mercy on (the elect) depends only upon Him, and not upon 'man's desire or effort' (NIV). I.e. God's election depends only upon God's choice and not upon any choices foreseen made by men. In the passage from Ephesians I highlighted verse 8. It shows that Arminians are correct in saying that we are saved through believing, not because we believe. Faith is not a work. But they miss what else this verse says. This faith that we are saved through is not something of ourselves, we don't produce it, this faith is a gift from God. Men are passive, refusing to believe and have the faith required, until they are made alive and renewed by the Holy Spirit (1Cor 2:14; Rom 8:7; Eph 2:5) 1Cor 2:14 says: "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."(NASB) When they are renewed by the Holy Spirit, they are enabled to answer, ie made free to respond. (John 6:37, 5:25; Ezek 36:27) In John 6:37 Jesus says: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."(NASB)

So Arminians are incorrect in saying that faith is our contribution. It is a gift from God. (Other passages which refer to faith being a gift from God are: Rom 12:3,6 and 1Cor 12:7-9) We are enabled to choose God by the Holy Spirit, and then we do. We do have to freely choose God to be saved, but we cannot do that until we are renewed by the Spirit. But they are correct in saying that we are chosen in Christ Jesus because God looks at us in Him, not in ourselves. Jesus' righteousness is imputed to us, if God looked at us on account of ourselves we would be doomed to Hell, so He looks at the elect in Jesus.

Evaluation 2 - Foreknowledge

A fundamental issue behind the Arminians' stance on election is that God's Foreknowledge and Foreordaining must be distinguished. They are wrong in insisting on this as the two are intricately connected. Insisting on separating the two is like insisting on separating God's Mercy and His Love. It can't be done. This issue of election is not a simple one, but Arminians break it down into statements (which are explained above) when the topic should not be broken down in the way they do. The statements they make which I gave above were:
God's Foreknowledge and Foreordaining must be separated;
God did not foreknow those saved because He arbitrarily determined them to be saved;
Foreknowledge no more changes future events than after-knowledge changes historic events.

As I maintained, the first statement is incorrect as the two are intricately connected (I shall explain how). As it stands the second statement is correct. Calvinists shouldn't teach predestination in such a way which makes God arbitrary, because He is not, but it isn't as simple as the Arminians make it out to be. Also with the third statement the Arminians are only seeing part of the picture. The third statement may be correct at face value, but it isn't that simple.

The Bible uses the word "know" in a very personal and intimate way. It is not the same as acquaintances. It uses the word in intimate ways such as a man "knows his wife". God knows us more than we know ourselves. He knows us intimately because He created us, has a plan for us, and knows our entire life - past present and future. Not only this, but God knows us so intimately because He guides us and determines our life. We are responsible beings, but God "works out everything to the conformity of His will." (Eph 1:11 NIV) So for God to foreknow those who accept Him, it is for reasons more than just simply Him foreseeing their acceptance. Also God foresees those 'in Christ' for reasons more than simply Him knowing because He put them there. The whole issue is both these simple statements, and more. God's foreknowledge and foreseeing is there because of His intimate relationship with us all and our lives. God's 'foreknowing' of us shows this. As a man "knows his wife", God knows us - yet even more intimately. He knows our whole lives, our personality, how He will move through our lives, how He does move through our lives, how we were created, how we matured, how we will respond to the Gospel, how He will move us to respond etc. God's Spirit moves through the elect in ways which are agreeable to each individual's personality. He does not invade the liberty of a person's will. He renews the person's liberty of will, and moves in the way which he knows will be agreeable to that person and cause him/her to freely turn to Christ. In this way the elect's liberty is not violated and the calling of the Holy Spirit is irresistible.

Evaluation 3- The Unsaved

It is true that all are sinners on their way to Hell - but God in His mercy elects some sinners for salvation. But how should election be applied to the unsaved? Does the Bible teach predestination to damnation?

Romans 9:17-23 says: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH. So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?' On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory"(NASB - Capitals are OT quote)

2Timothy 2:19-20 says: "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.' Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor."(NASB)

God chose to have mercy on some sinners and rejected the others. Because He elected some, it follws that He rejected the rest. Those rejected are "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction". God elected some to life and passed by others. This was done by the council of His will alone, for God extends and withholds mercy as He pleases. Those He passed by He considered as guilty and fallen people, but those He elected are equally guilty so each man's allotment is resolved with Rom 9:18 - "He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." This is not injustice. It would have been just for God to pass by everyone as all deserve it, but in electing to bring some to life God has not been unjust to the rest. This is because their case would be exactly the same than if it were that He had not been merciful to the few He is. Why has God ordained "some to dishonor" - those whom He has passed by? This is resolved by their sin. In passing by these sinners, God appears as judge, deciding beforehand the punishment of the guilty, their sin is the cause of their downfall so God is not doing them any wrong. In being merciful to some and just to the rest God is showing His character - He is just and merciful. It is all done to the praise of God's glorious justice and His glorious grace.

It is written in Dick's 'Lectures on Theology' vol. 2 P197: "Election and reprobation are co-relative terms; and men impose upon themselves, and imagine that they conceive what is impossible to conceive, when they admit election and deny reprobation."

To admit Election to Salvation and deny Election to Damnation makes no sense. All deserve damnation and God elects to save those whom He and only He chose to have mercy on. Those whom He chose to pass by God chose to show His justice through His punishment of them, so has basically elected them to damnation. This is different to Election to Salvation as all deserve damnation. Those saved are accounted as righteous - a position they do not deserve. To say that predestination to destruction is unnecessary as all deserve it appears correct, but yet isnít. God has elected to show His justice on those whom He has chosen not to be merciful to (ie predestined to damnation). Their damnation is not God's fault, but the just consequence of their sin. It is a logical consequence of God electing some for salvation - and the Bible does teach it!

Evaluation 4 - Missions

Duffield and Van Cleave state in their book 'Foundations of Pentecostal Theology' (Their theology is Arminian) on P209: "Let no idea, with regard to this doctrine of Election, in any way hinder the preaching of the Gospel to all Mankind. The Great Commission is still the obligation of the church of Jesus Christ: 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned' (Mk. 16:15,16)"

There are many Arminians, it seems, who believe that the doctrine of Election will hinder missions. It will discourage us from going forth and preaching the gospel. Although I think this is ridiculous and that Calvinism actually does more for missionary work than Arminianism does, their concerns are not unfounded. I remember a story of one missionary in the 17th century (I think it was then) who God called to go to India. Many people tried to stop him going saying that if God had elected any people in India, He would save them anyway with or without using missionaries! It is true that God will save those whom He has elected. But these people were advocating a kind of "Sit back and do nothing 'cause God'll do it all" view. This not only violates the Great Commission, it overlooks something very important which the Great Commission shows: That not only has God chosen who He will save, He has also chosen how almost all of them will be outwardly called - by us preaching the gospel to them!! God's election is more than just choosing who He will save, it is also choosing how they will be reached.

Calvinism actually does more for spreading the Word of God than Arminianism does. The above-mentioned Arminians have overlooked the positive side to it. They have only seen that there are those destined for damnation so it is pointless preaching to them. They make a small point, but they have forgotten two things:
First we don't know who is elected and who isn't, so we assume every non-Christian we meet is elected and tell them God's Word.
Second they see Calvinism as a discouragement to missions but it is actually an encouragement! It shows that there are many out there who will be saved! So we are to go out and preach and God will use our words and people will be saved partly through God using us! Calvinism shows that it is entirely the work of God which brings people to Christ, we are just agents for God giving His external call to all. Through us God plants seed in those He has elected, then using us and others to 'water' that seed until God brings that person to Christ. With Arminianism and the ultimate responsibility for salvation being man's not God's, the converting of non-Christians is down to us preaching the gospel well. But Calvinism shows that God uses even our meagre efforts.

1 Corinthians 3:5-7 explains it well: "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." (NASB)

So Election does not hinder but encourages us in our preaching of the Gospel!

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Copyright Steven Shaw 2001.

Browse through in a logical order:

TULIP General or Limited Atonement?

Browse through the order I made them:

TULIP The Fall and Human Will