Monday, November 10, 2008

predestination and election

I am not one anymore who cares to get into theological debates, and I find any debate among Christians on predestination and election particularly tiring in that it tends to be divisive, with little or nothing to show for its efforts. Though I suppose it has its place.

For many Christians, their view on the biblical teaching of predestination and election marks them as to where they are, on the Christian theological divides. For me, I wish we'd get beyond all of that, I guess- hopefully not sounding like I'm above it or them. I for one have been on several sides. Once I would have counted myself as a moderate Calvinist, now I might say I side more with the Arminian side. But all in all, I'm not sure the Bible lines up with either side.

God's election of Israel in Scripture is culminated with God's election of his Son. We all know that the Son, Jesus, did not have to be elected for salvation. The election, then is for something else. For us who need Jesus and his redemptive work as Savior, this election certainly includes salvation. But it's a salvation not just to save people, but to get them into God's mission and his works. Whatever God is doing now on the face of the earth in Jesus in the new creation in God's kingdom, is what God's saved ones are to be doing.

Israel's error was to suppose that it was all about them and their salvation and that for others to join and be elected, they'd have to get into this exclusive club. I think Christians can promote the same error, and that even theologies on both sides (Calvinist and Arminian) tend to promote this error. Especially when their teaching on predestination and election is up front and at the fore center of their faith and actions in the world.

Of course to have predestination and election as an important part of one's belief and actions in itself, I don't believe is off. But the church is chosen to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words the church, in Jesus, is chosen to be in mission. Certainly salvation is part of that, and it's important, and we must never lose sight of it. But we're missing the point if we simply stop there. Jesus brought the great salvation and redemption in his coming and once for all work for us on the cross. The resurrection in Jesus begins now (Romans 6, while in Romans 8 we still await the resurrection of our bodies, of course), and those of us in Jesus who participate in it begin to see the new creation in all our works in Jesus. Somehow each new work will find it's place in the new creation in Jesus, forever.

I write this under the influence of N. T. Wright's latest book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Of course while N. T. Wright has influenced me, I seek to base all of my belief and practice on Scripture. I think we can learn alot from him and others of course, but just like any other human, we have to judge his words from and by Scripture. I have found him quite helpful myself. The Challenge of Jesus, which I read around eight years ago, shook my theological world and was important towards fulfilling my theological paradigm, and I've remained convinced that there is much there that is helpful.

Do you agree or disagree, and why? Or what might you like to add here? And by the way, I won't be drawn into any long debates here. :)

18 comments:

odysseus said...

As I have stated in another of your posts, I think that both concepts are quite clear in Scripture (Isaiah 5.10ff is a perfect example). What happens is that we emphasize one over and against the other. To do so misses the point completely. Like you, Ted, I have been on both sides of the fence but, for now, am willing to straddle that fence realizing that God is Sovereign and humanity is responsible. I have been in more debates than I care to admit on these issues and more times than not, we start pitting the Bible against itself instead of realizing that those passages are how ordinary people like you and me are responding to the Sacred within them and creation. It is really difficult to pit ones experience with someone else's and claim that one was superior over the other. But we have done it for ever.

Furthermore, when we dig into the history of it all, we will see that some of the predestination position was being read into the text by someone who came from a very fatalistic religion. To think that this did not color the glasses through which the theologian was looking is, well, silly (I'm sorry, I can't think of a different word. I'm not meaning anything by it.).

I would like to point out that your influence by Bishop Wright is a good move. I, too, have been heavily influenced by him, especially regarding God's New Creation Project. I don't think we can get too far off target with the good Bishop!

Finally, all in all, I think that, again, both positions are emphasized in the Bible. The point that Bishop Wright makes about the nature of Israel's election is a powerful one that seems the best fit for the over-all story.

God's blessing be upon you.

OD

odysseus said...

Actually, that should be Isaiah 10.5ff. I always do that!

Litl-Luther said...

Thanks Ted.

I can't say I like N.T. Wright much because of his distorted view on justification. I believe justification in an essential, so it is hard for me to listen to someone who has misinterpreted that core Christian doctrine.

I honestly wonder sometimes if “Predestination” is really a non-essential as so many maintain. Not as though I think people who disagree with Calvinistic election are lost. Not at all! But is it really a non-essential? Wayne Grudem writes this regarding major and minor doctrines:

“A major doctrine is one that has a significant impact on our thinking about other doctrines, or that has a significant impact on how we live the Christian life. A minor doctrine is one that has very little impact on how we think about other doctrines, and very little impact on how we live the Christian life.”

If this definition holds true (and I really believe it does) then “Predestination” must indeed be a MAJOR doctrine. There is no doubt how we look at this particular doctrine thoroughly impacts how we think about all sorts of other doctrines. And if, therefore, predestination, is a major doctrine, then it is not something which is of little value to discuss. It should not be fruitless to deal with this doctrine because it is a major, not a minor one.

Just my two cents. Thanks for bringing up the issue at your blog.

Triston

Ted M. Gossard said...

Odysseus,
Thanks much. I concur. Am reading that part in the book now, by the way, on The New Creation Project- though not sure he uses those words in it. The gospel is much bigger than we have thought it to be, concerning all of creation by the new creation in Jesus, for sure.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Triston,
Thanks. I think Wright has an important point on justification which I think is supported in Galatians quite clearly. I don't believe at all he denies the individualistic aspect of it, but he also sees the communal aspect. And it's by faith that this declaration of righteousness, as what marks out the people of God, comes.

atruefaith.com said...

Ted, I’m not sure completely sure what I’m supposed to agree or disagree with here as there were several sweeping generalities asserted here in your entry without any definitive stand one way or the other. I guess the next question would be…What is your theological paradigm as it relates to predestination and election? But anyway, let me react to this statement:

“But the church is chosen to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words the church, in Jesus, is chosen to be in mission. Certainly salvation is part of that, and it's important, and we must never lose sight of it. But we're missing the point if we simply stop there. Jesus brought the great salvation and redemption in his coming and once for all work for us on the cross. The resurrection in Jesus begins now (Romans 6, while in Romans 8 we still await the resurrection of our bodies, of course), and those of us in Jesus who participate in it begin to see the new creation in all our works in Jesus. Somehow each new work will find it's place in the new creation in Jesus, forever.”

I think, as a moderate Calvinist, that the crux of “those of us who participate in it [Jesus’ cross work] begin to see the new creation…” would mean to me that those who participate in it are those whom God has enabled, propelled, steered, guided and enlightened so that they could see, desire and reach for it. That to me is election, that God is the one who facilitated everything for us so that we could we reach and grab – and our wills are merely just along for the ride on a God who possesses not only superior power, but superior will.

Ted M. Gossard said...

atruefaith.com,
Thanks for your good and thoughtful comment.

I think my understanding of predestination, while not denying that individuals are involved in it, of course they are- is really about calling a people of God, first through Abraham and his seed: Israel, and then the Messiah, Jesus, and then we in Jesus- the people of God. And it's a call more than just to salvation. So that those saved are not just no longer part of the problem, but in and through Jesus, the solution as well. In other words predestination and election is unto salvation and service.

As far as the divine sovereignty and human responsibility goes, I agree there is mystery here. In any work of God, even when humans end up doing something in that work, which is nearly invariably so, there is mystery. But that doesn't mean unconditional election, or irresistible grace, I believe.

Litl-Luther said...

Is there a definition of "a moderate Calvinist"? I know Ted says he once was one, and truefaith also defines himself as one. Just curious what that means. Would a semi-moderate Calvinist be one who only believes in 2 points (perhaps Total Depravity and Perseverance of the Saints)? And would a full-blown moderate Calvinist be one who accepts all points of the TULIP except the L? I'm not being flippant; just wondering if there's a standard.

I'm a "Flaming" Calvinist myself. I prefer the label flaming rather than staunch, for embracing the whole TULIP.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Triston,
That really differs. Limited atonement is the big stumbling block for them. Not consistent. But if you're wrong on one premise, consistency doesn't matter anyhow. I think I agree with T and P, because I believe God works in his children to help them persevere. I think for God's children to fall is more like a wrenching of themselves away from the faith, though any playing around with sin is dangerous. A good Calvinist agrees as well, but the basis and conclusion in that is just different, as you know.

Thanks for your good thoughts and question.

odysseus said...

I like your statement, Ted, 'predestination and election is unto salvation and service'. I completely agree with that. I also agree with your statement (in paraphrasing Wright's) that we have neglected to communal aspect of justification.

I guess, my biggest problem is the acceptance of terms and definitions of those terms. It seems that to have a good discussion on these issues one would need to agree with the distinct compartments and how they are defined. I am finding that God is more 'organic' than all of that. One really can't divide theology into systematic ways. They should all over lap. I think that this over simplification of systematic theology is what has led us into these types of discussions. When we, finite humans, divide what God has joined together, we miss the point entirely. Just like Israel in the OT, the started viewing their election as a badge and by the time of Jesus Israel became such an exclusive group that they had other exclusive groups within themselves. And the rest of the world were not even considered human. They had completely missed the point of their election. This looks an awful lot like the church today -- 'we're right and the only church "going to heaven".' And to me, it all stems from us taking the story and breaking it down to individual parts.

God's blessing be upon you.

OD

atruefaith.com said...

And it's a call more than just to salvation. So that those saved are not just no longer part of the problem, but in and through Jesus, the solution as well. In other words predestination and election is unto salvation and service.

As far as the divine sovereignty and human responsibility goes, I agree there is mystery here. In any work of God, even when humans end up doing something in that work, which is nearly invariably so, there is mystery. But that doesn't mean unconditional election, or irresistible grace, I believe.


We agree here and our differences become more and more profound the more we narrow it down. Not meaning that we can’t have fellowship, we certain can and must, but the smaller we see the differences between us the more profound their outcome becomes….like two ships side by side who if separated by but a degrees worth of bearing across a 10,000 mile journey end up so very far apart.

Anyway, in response to your quote, we agree. We are called to God to be his, in the fullness of what that is. But I think the Scripture reveals to us that in that call, God also gives the sight and desire to see the worth and beauty of what one is being called to so that one can look on the call and see an unsavory life filled with burdens and shame and another sees instead a life of joy with great reward.

Brad

Ted M. Gossard said...

Odysseus,
Thanks for all of that. Good words. I agree.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Brad (a true faith),
I agree with all you say here. Of course all is a gift from God and is of grace.

Not really sure though that we're like two ships which end up oceans apart.

Litl-Luther said...

Brad wrote:

>I think the Scripture reveals to us that in that call, God also gives the sight and desire to see the worth and beauty of what one is being called to....

Amen Brad! I like and wholeheartedly agree with what you've said here.

Triston

Andrew said...

Ted,

I won't deny that Israel was chosen to be the redemptive line (and nation) through which the Messiah would come. Israel was also chosen to be a beacon for the Lord--much in the same way the Church, the fullness of Israel, is today (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Even a Calvinist's beloved Ephesians 1:4 speaks in this direction: "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him ...." We were chosen (elect) to be holy in practice.

But I see this passage as more strongly pointing to who we are by virtue of our "position" in Christ. He is holy, sinless, and blameless--and so are we who believe (Eph. 1:2). We were chosen for union with Christ, really, which God has worked out by pouring out his Spirit and granting faith. So in one sense we are immediately holy (judicially, declaratively) through forgiveness. But in another sense, our union with the sinless Christ is manifest in our works by the same Spirit. I don't see a tension in these "conflicting" interpretations. They're twin sides of the one reality of fellowship with Christ.

As for other thoughts--well, I have to go eat dinner right now. I'll be back on later.

Andrew said...

"God's election of Israel in Scripture is culminated with God's election of his Son. We all know that the Son, Jesus, did not have to be elected for salvation. The election, then is for something else."

It seems to me that this is to take what some passages say about Jesus' election--namely, that he was the one through whom God's redemptive plan would reach fulfillment, himself being the true Israel (cf. Isa. 41:9; 42:1-9; Luke 9:35; 1 Pet. 1:20)--and make them the same meaning of "election" or "choosing" in all their contexts.

Back in God's choosing of Abraham and Israel in the Pentateuch, all the way down through Jesus as God's "chosen one, his Beloved," there is a manifold depth here. Abraham/Israel/Jesus were chosen BOTH as servants AND for blessing. The emphasis depends upon the context, but I think the chief OT emphases are being chosen out of the rest of the world both for the special favor and privilege of God's LOVE and for the service of worship to God (by obeying his laws and serving as a beacon for the nations).

But I think that the NT usages of eklegomai/eklektos, etc., in regards to the church seem usually to function in the realm of assurance of belonging to God and surety in his salvation. The emphasis in Pauline writings appears to be on individual election (which of course is never apart from Christ or the church, his body!). The Thessalonian church was assured of their standing in God's love by evidence of his choice: the salvific work of the Spirit. "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you . . . in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Ths. 1:4-5). The Holy Spirit's illumination and their belief in the gospel is evidence that God has chosen, i.e., loved and favored them over and apart from other people. "We ought always to give thanks for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Ths. 2:13). The church again was chosen in special, favoring love FOR salvation, not only chosen TO BE missional transformers.

Litl-Luther said...

AMEN to everything you wrote Andrew!!!!!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Andrew,
I appreciate all you wrote so well, and on my post today, I mention your good contribution to this discussion.

I agree in basic part to all you say, at the same time factoring in our theological differences.

The key for me is to see all the promises fulfilled in Christ, so that this salvation in Jesus is being taken up into the ongoing work of God in the world, a work of seeing the new creation in Jesus come into the lives of people as well as into God's creation and into the fabric of human life and culture.

The truth of assurance in Christ as spelled out in Ephesians is vitally important as we shouldn't be proclaiming something as saving which we have not found and am finding to be saving in our own lives (as N. T. Wright states I'm sure better, in his book, "Surprised by Hope").

An indicator, too that election is strongly pertinent to service is Jesus' words to the disciples that they were chosen to bear fruit (in the last supper discourse in John's gospel). I'm sure that election can be distinguished from that in Ephesians (and maybe we are talking about apples and oranges here) as well as to be distinguished from other believers in Jesus, as pertaining to their special missional calling as apostles. But I think, and I'm sure you'd agree, that it has application to be lived out by all "in Christ" as is indicative to me of the reality that we all need to "abide in Christ" and the teaching of John 15.

If you have time, take a look at today's post on story. Probably nothing new to you at all, but helps you understand my take on this, as I again mention predestination and election there.