Thursday, June 27, 2002


In my secret mission to convert everyone to Calvinism, I have already introduced the acrostic TULIP

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

and have posted on the letter ‘P’. Today I want to talk about the letter ‘U’ for Unconditional Election.

This is the Calvinistic Biggie— Unconditional Election is really Predestination with a capital P.

Calvinism is so thoroughly associated with this doctrine that some think that Calvinism is only about predesitination, and that only Calvinists believe in predestination. In truth, virtually all Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, adhere to some form of predestination. They must—the scriptural references cannot be ignored.

If Calvinism means this particular (strong) view of predestination, then Calvin wasn’t the greatest Calvinst. Luther, in this regard, was more of a Calvinist than Calvin, at least he dealt with predestination more than Calvin.

Who was the first Calvinist? Why the Apostle Paul, of course! All right, although I truly believe that to be the case I know you Arminians will not let me get away with it. (It’s true, though!) Among theologians, Augustine is given credit (blame?) as the first to formulate the doctrine of predestination.

Okay, so What is It?

Unconditional Election, or (Calvinistic) Predestination says:

Before the foundation of time, God chose certain (future) men (and women) to be saved. Not for anything that he foresaw that these particular individuals (the “elect”) would do that was meritorious, but solely for His own pleasure in fulfillment of His perfect will. He decided to show mercy on some. The rest receive justice, i.e., the eternal damnation that all sinners deserve.

I am saved. I am one of the elect. It is something to be grateful for (what an understatement!) but it is not something to boast about. I did nothing to deserve it; I am as deserving of hell as anyone else. Amazing grace, amazing mystery, amazing amazing amazing.

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

The Calvinistic view is that many will receive the Gospel call, but only the elect will respond positively. (That is, only the elect receive an efficacious call). This call cannot be rejected (that’s the ‘I’ in TULIP). Everything is by grace.

The Arminian view is that God will make an offer, through presentation of the Gospel, but the receiver of the offer must, at least at some minimal level, accept the offer of his own volition-- which means the offer can be rejected as well.

Calvinism says that if God knocks you will open the door. The Arminian view is you must choose to open the door.

Calvinism says that you are dead to sins, without a pulse, and can do nothing to please God, and are in such a depraved state you do not have the ability to accept him (apart from grace). The Arminian view is that the sinner is gravely ill but has enough reserve strength to choose whether to consume or spit out the medicine that God places in his mouth.

Calvinists say that, without election, no one would be saved because no one would make the choice to follow Christ.

Calvinists still witness because Christ commands them to and because it is a privilege to be an agent of the efficacious call to another believer. Arminians witness because Christ commands them to and because they feel a responsibility to give as many as possible the chance to accept, and to lead them to make the proper choice (while giving the credit and Glory to God). Calvinists do not feel as much personal responsibility as Arminians when someone doesn’t respond positively. Arminians, to their great credit, are generally more zealous in their witnessing.

Calvinists who say “why bother to witness” are guilty of ignoring the Great Commission and in fact are not really Calvinists, they are practicing one form of Hyper-Calvinism. This is a serious problem that I will take up another time.

It is important to note that election does not mean that you have necessarily received salvation, only that it is inevitable that you will at some point, and that process is almost always carried out through evangelism.
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10, NASB)

That’s not Fair

There are almost always one of two responses from someone the first time they hear about Calvinistic predestination. One response is something like “cool, I can do whatever I want since I am either one of the elect or not. Might as well eat, drink, and be merry.” To which I reply: “You bet, that’s why we have so much fun at our church! You should come!” No, I don’t really say that. Actually there is a serious heresy with that line of thinking called Antinomianism. Paul handles that in no uncertain terms in several places, for example in Romans:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:15-16, NASB)

The second, and more common criticism is that it’s not fair that some are chosen and others are not.

You have to remember that everyone deserves hell, and God would be perfectly just and fair to send us all there. Those who are saved receive mercy, and mercy is a free gift, and gifts can be given to anyone at the giver’s pleasure.

Even if we look at “fairness” in the sense that people want to apply it, well then Calvinism is unfairly singled out as being unfair. Both Calvinism and Arminianism are “unfair”. In Calvinism, only some are of the elect, the rest are damned; it would have been better if they had not been born.

In Arminianism, some hear the Gospel and have a chance to respond, but millions die without hearing it and are damned. It would have better if they had not been born.

Calvinism says that God has guaranteed the salvation of some and the rest don’t have a chance. Arminianism says that God has guaranteed the salvation of nobody, but anyone hearing the Gospel has a chance.

In Calvinism, it is not possible that Christ died in vain. In Arminianism, in principle everyone could reject the offer leaving Christ with no people to call His own. His death would have been for naught.

Calvinism can be viewed as a covenant among the three members of the Godhead, each of which then plays a critical role in salvation. The Father chose some to be saved and given to the Son. The Son did what was necessary to redeem the chosen. The Spirit works within the elect to bring about sanctification.

Problems, Everyone has Problems

As you might guess, the doctrine of predestination is very closely tied to the bigger issue of God’s sovereignty. In Calvinism, God is totally sovereign. As R. C. Sproul likes to say, there is not even one maverick molecule running outside of God’s control. This means that randomness and chance are illusions arising from our ignorance. Nothing happens that He hasn’t ordained or at least permitted to happen, including 9/11 (Got that NRO?) This also means that Calvinism has a “problem” with free will. There are three things I will say about free will:

  1. Free will isn’t what you think it is.
  2. Calvinism has an answer to the free will conundrum.
  3. I’m not going to talk about it now because it’s too complicated. Another post.

[UPDATE: Dr. Byron posts on Calvinism and free will as an adjunct professor to the newly chartered (as yet without accreditation) University of Blogistan Theology Department. I respectfully do not agree with his view-- but have to limit my comments until I get my own free will to convince me to write a post of my own.]

Arminianism has no trouble with free will, but has a big problem with God’s sovereignty: if whether or not you respond positively to the Gospel is up to you, then it’s not up to God. God is not totally sovereign.

I actually do not know the Arminian solution to their sovereignty conundrum, but it must rival in complexity the Calvinist solution for free will.

Scriptural Support

If there is no scriptural support for this, then I should be stoned. Fortunately that is not the case. You may say that I misinterpret some scripture, but if you are honest then I think the worst that can be said is that “I don’t agree but I can see how someone might believe that.”

I have listed them in the order that they appear. Some are "supportive", some are blockbusters. In the latter category I would certainly include Rom 8:28-30, and Eph. 1:4, so you may want to read those first.

And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord , in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Ex. 33:19, NASB) )

How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. (Ps. 65:4, NASB)

"For many are called, but few are chosen." (Mat. 22:14, NASB)

"Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat. 24:22, NASB)

"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Mat. 24:24, NASB)

"And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Mat. 24:31, NASB)

now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? (Luke 18:7, NASB)

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. ( John 6:44, NASB)

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:16, NASB)

And we know that God causes 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 many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)

Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; (Rom. 8:33, NASB)

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." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Rom 9:11-13, NASB)

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Rom 9:16, NASB)


just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love (Eph. 1:4, NASB)

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Th. 5:9, NASB)

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Th. 2:13-14 1:1, NASB)

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,
(Titus 1:1, NASB)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, … who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be (sprinkled with His blood: …. (1 Pet. 1:1-2, NASB)

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Rev. 13:8, NASB)

… And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Rev. 17:8, NASB)

See also: Deu. 10:14-15, Ps. 33:12, Ps. 106:5, Hag. 2:23, Mat. 11:27, Mark 13:20, Rom. 11:28, 1 Cor. 1:27-29, Eph. 1:12, 2:10, Col. 3:12, 2 Tim. 1:9, 1 Pet. 2:8, Rev. 17:14 (not an exhaustive list).

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