This is Your Brain on Unconditional Election

In a recent post entitled "Ten Reasons to Revel in Being [Unconditionally] Chosen [Unto Salvation]," John Piper states, "Your faith is not the basis of God's choosing you, but the result of it." In other words, you believe in Christ today because God chose to, somehow, implant faith1 within you. He misuses John 15:16, which refers to the disciples chosen for service, to refer to the doctrine of unconditional election. He further states: "If you have come to Jesus, the wonder is that you already belonged to the Father, and the Father gave you to Jesus." This is as close to hyper-Calvinism as Calvinists get without actually conceding the hyper-Calvinist doctrine of eternal justification. But look closely at Piper's teaching.

He emphatically states that the person who has come (present perfect tense) to Jesus already belonged (simple past tense with adverb) to the Father. Thus, in Calvinism, the unconditionally elect individual -- the person whom God chose to grant salvation to based on no other qualification than His mere arbitrary choice -- already belonged to God the Father apart from faith in and union with Jesus Christ: the Father merely "gave to" Jesus those who already belonged to the Father. Q. But how, exactly, did these unconditionally elect persons already belong to the Father? By what means? A. Merely by decree. Not by Christ, not through faith in Christ, but by a predetermined decree.

What, in a central sense, grants these unconditionally elect persons a spiritual union with God the Father prior to them "being given" to Christ? In the mind of God the Father, is not the status of the unconditionally elect already a settled matter? Consider Piper's own words: "Revel in the wonder that you are a Christian because God chose you to be one. Your roots, as a child of God, are in eternity -- in the infinite mind and heart of God. Your faith, and all its fruits, are God's eternal gift." (emphasis added) If these persons, the unconditionally elect, have their spiritual roots in eternity as a child of God in the infinite mind and heart of God, how then are they not eternally justified, as hyper-Calvinists insist?

Many Calvinists attempt to wiggle out of this doctrine by insisting on the element of time: one is justified in time. Arminians agree! But Calvinists place the spiritual roots of belonging to God in eternity, as do hyper-Calvinists, not in time as do Arminians. Note, too, how Jesus is denigrated to a secondary class in the scheme of the unconditionally elect belonging to the Father. While Arminius rightly argues that God the Father chose us in Christ, as he grounds our election and our salvation in the Person and Work of Christ,2 as St Paul insists (Eph. 1:3, 4, 5), Piper and other Calvinists ground this choice in God the Father arbitrarily unconditionally electing one person unto salvation and not another.

Louis Berkof argues that hyper-Calvinists maintain that justification of a sinner
took place in eternity, or in the resurrection of Christ. They either confounded it with the eternal decree of election, or with the objective justification of Christ when He was raised from the dead. They did not properly distinguish between the divine purpose in eternity and its execution in time, nor between the work of Christ in procuring, and that of the Holy Spirit in applying the blessings of redemption. (link) (emphasis added)
In the brief post by Piper, he is guilty of the same, failing to distinguish between belonging to God by grace through faith in Christ and thereby being justified and the divine purpose of God to justify the believer by grace through faith in and union with Christ. We argue that Piper and other Calvinists perpetually fail to construct such distinctions due to an unwarranted obsession with their doctrine of eternal unconditional election. In other words, Calvinists like John Piper make excellent hyper-Calvinist advocates.

I often argue that the nature of unconditional election is arbitrary -- there can be no stated reason as to why God would unconditionally elect one person unto salvation and not another, none whatsoever, since we are all equally depraved. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, and in His resurrection, God could have elected to save every single person and still be considered sovereign, glorious, and merciful. God does not need to reprobate anyone in order to display His anger at sin. Was not the cruel Cross of Christ enough demonstration? Even Piper fails miserably on this most significant question: "Therefore, the basis of God choosing you is not in you, but in grace." But God would have had to "grace" anyone He chooses to save; so granting the answer of "grace" as to the basis of God choosing an individual is a non-answer, a deflection, a red herring.

Moreover, since God's alleged unconditional election of whom He chose by decree to save is a secret decree, unknown to mortals; and since secret things belong to the LORD, and not to us (Deut. 29:29); then no one can really know for certain if he or she is among the unconditionally elect. This truth has caused several unnecessary emotional and psychological problems for people. I know for a fact that former Calvinist-turned-agnostic Bart Ehrman once believed that he was unconditionally elected by God unto salvation because I spoke with him personally on this matter in New Orleans. Calvinists qualify their assertions on the doctrine of election by appealing to perseverance -- only those who persevere to the end are unconditionally elect. While that is convenient, the qualification fails to consider the secret nature of God's decree of unconditional election, leaving the believer unable to know for certain that he or she will persevere to the end and be saved.

Piper disagrees: "Since our faith and obedience is owing to God's choice of us, we can know we are chosen." This statement is a mere collection of words that form a sentence to me and little else: Just because a person believes today does not mean that the person will believe tomorrow. Ask former Calvinist-turned-agnostic Bart Ehrman. No, my Calvinist friend, you cannot know that you have been unconditionally chosen by God for salvation, and Calvin, as well as St Augustine, imply as much. In Calvinism, the presence of faith in Christ is declared to be "one of the fruits of [unconditional] election."3 Yet, some who begin in the faith of Christ abandon that faith, and forfeit eternal life. Calvin answers:
[F]or though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate [the unconditionally non-elect] are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ Himself, a temporary faith is ascribed to them. ...

Nor do I deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize His grace; but that conviction He distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which He gives to His [unconditionally] elect in this respect. When He shows Himself propitious [a deceptive intention toward atoning their sin] to them, it is not as if He had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under His mercy.4 (emphases added)
Notice how devious is Calvin's God in toying with the alleged non-elect, enlightening their minds, enabling them to think that God is being gracious and merciful toward them in this fake faith. Actually, the issue is worse, as Calvin continues: "Sometimes, however, He communicates it [contextually, a calling unto salvation] also to those whom He enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, He abandons and smites with greater blindness."5 Friend, no matter what John Piper tells you, you can possess absolutely no assurance that your faith is evidence of your being unconditionally elected unto salvation. For, according to the founder of Calvinism itself, you could actually be a reprobate whom God has deigned to enlighten only for a time. No wonder, then, why so many Calvinists question their salvation.

For example, Laurence M. Vance quotes Calvinist Lorraine Boettner: "No unconverted person in this life knows for certain that God will not yet convert and save him, even though he is aware that no such change has yet taken place." Vance responds: "Yet, [Leonard] Coppes [author of Are Five Points Enough? The Ten Points of Calvinism] still maintains that 'predestination is the fount of assurance of salvation and God's answer to doubt.' This brings up another facet of the other side of Unconditional Election -- seeking assurance of salvation in an arcane, mysterious, sovereign, eternal decree of predestination instead of in the clear statements of the Bible."6 While the apostle Peter commands believers to "give diligence all the more to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10 KJV), Calvinism cannot enable its adherents to obey this command, granting to the believer an unstable and troubling certainty, since God's decree of unconditional election is secret, and has not been revealed among us, and the secret things of the LORD belong to Him. (Deut. 29:29)

Bible teacher Dave Hunt, in his book, What Love is This? Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God, relates a story about Al, who began to question not merely Calvinism but his own unconditional election unto salvation; unconditional election was even causing problems in his marriage. His perceived lesser-intellectual wife, a non-Calvinist, was experiencing the richness of her faith in Christ, by the grace of God, while her Calvinist husband was being tormented by doubts created by the Calvinist theology he had adopted. "Once happy and fruitful in the Lord, now Al could no longer be certain that his repentance and what he had thought was faith in Christ for salvation had not been purely human emotions."7 Al correctly understood that, in a Calvinistic framework,
if he had been elected unto salvation, it could only have been unconditionally and thus completely apart from any "faith" he could have placed in Christ. That faith had to be given to him after he was saved [regenerated, born again, made alive in Christ] and could not have involved any volitional [willing] belief on his part. But that didn't fit what he remembered.8
Al was being tormented in his mind over these issues. Rather than reading Scripture for comfort, understanding the plain verses contained therein granting him assurance of salvation, which is grounded in trusting solely in the work of Christ on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection, he was obsessed with reading Calvinist literature and could not escape the quagmire of doubt. Al begged an answer from his pastor: "If no one knows who the elect are, then how can I know I'm one of the elect?"9 Calvinism brought this man to despair, as it has accomplished the same for others, and that is only part of an answer as to why many abandon the philosophy of Calvinism. John Piper and others can paint beautiful word-pictures, but they cannot grant their adherents assurance of ultimate salvation, not with the kind of God they claim is the God of the Bible.


1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.2.11, 479.

2 See F. Stuart Clarke, The Ground of Election: Jacobus Arminius' Doctrine of the Work and Person of Christ (Waynesboro: Paternoster, 2006).

3 Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.11, 478.

4 Ibid., 3.2. 11, 478-79.

5 Ibid., 3.24.8, 247.

6 Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 2002), 403.

7 Dave Hunt, What Love is This? Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God (The Berean Call, 2013), 496.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 497.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.