On the Implausibility of Unconditional Election

That God decreed, foreordained, and unconditionally elected only certain persons to be saved in and through Christ is, I think, an implausible philosophical theory due to its seemingly-inherent arbitrary nature; arbitrary, meaning a decision grounded in random choice or personal whim, a divine duck-duck-goose, if you will, in which God could just have easily chosen an alleged non-elect person over an alleged unconditionally elect person. While I will defend my brief thesis, we must state that the Calvinist in no manner views unconditional election as arbitrary in nature, but insists that God maintains His purpose(s) for unconditionally electing one person and not another.1 I think the theory is gratuitous.

Donald K. McKim underscores the historical fact that St Augustine, in the early fifth century, is the one who formalized the theory of unconditional election; meaning, the novel concept of unconditional election is absent in the the writings of our early Church fathers in the first four centuries of biblical and theological Church history. Dr. McKim writes: "Augustine believed that out of the mass of sinful humanity God had [unconditionally] chosen some to illustrate God's grace, while passing by the remainder [by far the majority] to illustrate God's justice."2 The problem inherent in this theory, however, is that it actually undermines the cross of Christ.

Calvinist apologist James White offers a statement from the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) that agrees with McKim's understanding of Augustine above: "By His decree, and for the manifestation of His glory, God has predestinated (or foreordained) certain men and angels to eternal life through Jesus Christ, thus revealing His grace. Others, whom He has left to perish in their sins, show the terror of His justice."3 This echoes the sentiments of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646):
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass [even sin]; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions [a Molinist concept and a contradiction to Calvinist philosophy]; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. (link)
Calvinists argue that God could not foreknow what He had not foreordained.4 How, then, could God "know whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions" when God had not foreordained but one reality, this reality, and not hypothetical realities? Regardless of this contradiction, we ask, Does this notion of God decreeing all events, then, include the notion that God unconditionally elected to save only some?
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto [hence unconditional]; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. (link) (emphasis added)
I will argue below that this Calvinist theory is not only arbitrary, entirely gratuitous and, hence, unnecessary; but that it also undermines and, indeed, betrays the very cross and atoning blood of Christ Jesus.

ARBITRARY BY NATURE

Are all sinners equally offensive and sinful and fallen and rebellious in the perspective of God? From the view of the Calvinist, which is of utmost significance for our purposes here, the answer is a loud and resounding yes. Again, according to the Westminster Confession, we discover:
III. They [Adam and Eve] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed [i.e., imputed equally to all their posterity]; and the same death in sin [the original sin], and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.

IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. (link) (emphasis added)
If, then, we are all equally sinful, God, in unconditionally electing to save one person and not another must maintain a reason, a purpose, for doing so, or else the selection is entirely arbitrary. While the Calvinist must insist that we cannot know His reason(s), His purpose(s), we argue that there can be no reason(s), no purpose(s), for Him to unconditionally elect to save one sinner and not another. Think about the issue in this manner.

JACOB ARMINIUS (1559-1609)

If God were to unconditionally elect to save the most heinous of all creatures, rapists and murderers and child molesters, one might understand the philosophical notion of God displaying His grace in unconditionally electing to save them. But we must also insist that God did not elect to save them because they were among the most vile offenders. God, then, could unconditionally elect to save the mild-mannered grandmother who, according to cherished values, never stole an item, never cussed, always loved and respected others, but who was, nevertheless, in need of salvation; but also unconditionally elected to save the rapist with 18 victims in his past. But God did not elect others. Why?

The Calvinist cannot suggest that the very reason why God did not unconditionally elect the others is to show the severity of His justice. That is a response and not an answer. God could have, theoretically, displayed said justice on those whom He allegedly did unconditionally elect unto salvation. Calvinists are not telling us the reason why God unconditionally chose to save one person and not another. Why did God want "this person" to be an example of His justice, evident in His eternal condemnation, and not "that person"? There can in no viable sense be an answer, I argue, because all sinners are equally depraved, equally offensive, equally in need of redemption. Unconditional election, then, is arbitrary by nature.

GRATUITOUS AND UNNECESSARY

God determines who is and who is not saved. This theological position is maintained by Calvinists, Arminians, and many other non-Calvinists. Should He desire to save everyone, however, that reality would still honor the atoning work of Christ on His cross and would still leave intact the sovereignty of God. After all, God is still the one who determines who is saved and in what manner, even if He chose to save all. Such would be His sovereign choice. The sovereignty and glory of God is not dependent upon the number of humans saved. The theory of unconditional election, then, is gratuitous at best, entirely unnecessary, and offensive to God at worst.

UNDERMINES AND BETRAYS THE CROSS

The justice and wrath of God was displayed in the cross event by Jesus. We do not need a philosophical theory of unconditional election and reprobation (even unconditional reprobation) in order to "show the terror of His justice." We see "the terror of His justice" when we look at Christ on the cross. If God needs to elect some persons to hell, or passively by-pass them for salvation in order to "show the terror of His justice," then God Himself completely undermines the cross of Christ, His Son, by which the utter horror of God's justice and wrath was and is most clearly evident.

ELECTION UNTO SALVATION

Does God elect some to be saved? Yes. God elects (chooses, selects) to save those who believe. (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20) God does not regenerate and save unbelievers. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13) Therefore, faith precedes regeneration, and, thus, faith precedes salvation. The condition for God's choice or electing to save anyone, then, is a proactive faith in Christ Jesus. Unconditional election theory is, in conclusion, implausible at best and impossible at worst.

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1 For example, James White explains, "God elects a specific people unto Himself without reference to anything they do. This means the basis of God's choice of the elect is solely within Himself: His grace, His mercy, His will. It is not man's actions, works, or even foreseen faith, that 'draws' God's choice. God's election is unconditional and final." See The Potter's Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norman Giesler's Chosen But Free (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 39. (emphases original)

2 Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, ed. Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 291.

3 White, 124.

4 White argues that "it has always been recognized that God either bases His election and decrees on what he foresees in the free actions of creatures [a non-Calvinistic understanding], or, His decree and election determines what takes place in time [the Calvinist position]." (56) Hence God could not foreknow whom He would elect unto salvation without decreeing the future -- decreeing the people and their circumstances in order to also decree either their eternal bliss or condemnation. White suggests that we "must agree with Feinberg when he summarizes the question [we all] must answer: 'does God foreknow because he foreordains or does he foreordain because he foreknows?'" (57) Calvinists insist on the former notion and many non-Calvinists the latter.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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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.