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Election

Election continues to be a point of discussion, and contention, among thinking Christians. In this short post I would like to offer a distinction between a classical understanding of election (held among classical Calvinists), and then an evangelical Calvinist understanding of election; the latter of which I hold to, of course! The evangelical Calvinist understanding, at least for me, is Karl Barth electionand Thomas Torrance inspired. This will be an off-the-top post where I simply try to explain things in an impromptu kind of way.

Classical

In eternity past God, by absolute decree, elected a select group of individuals throughout all of salvation history whom He would die for (in Christ), pay for by the blood of Christ, and ensure their eternal justification/sanctification/glorification by persevering grace.

In summary. The classical perspective believes that there are particularly elect individuals (and some in the classic camp believe that this applies to the reprobate as well; i.e. that God actively decreed that there would be reprobate individual people, in fact the majority of humanity [e.g. the ‘broad way’]) for whom Christ died, and that He did not die for all of humanity (so what is called limited atonement or definite atonement).

Evangelical

In eternity past God, by gracious interpenetrating love, elected to become human in the eternal Son (Deus incarnatus) assuming humanity for all of humanity. He chose an individual for eternal salvation in the elect humanity of the Son. In this assumption of humanity, in its execution in the incarnation (assumptio carnis), Jesus Christ by virtue of the ‘type’ of humanity He assumed–i.e. ‘fallen humanity’–became reprobate for us (cf. II Cor. 5.21; 8.9), the ‘One for the many.’ In His death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Romans 6.1-4; I Cor. 15.1-4), in His elect and exalted status, He is ‘elect humanity par excellence’ for all of humanity by virtue of the fact that He is not just fully man, but fully God.

Closing

The classic position focuses on individual people in its doctrine of election, and works primarily from a soteriological vantage point (prior to Christology). The evangelical position focuses on the individuality of Christ’s humanity in its doctrine of election, and works primarily from a Christological vantage point (prior to soteriology).

I am evangelical.

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12 thoughts on “Election

  1. I love it when people can explain complex ideas in succinct ways. At the end, we want our teaching to be accessible to others, just like Christ make himself accesible to humanity. Great Job, Bobby! By the way, I’d love to talk about future collaborations. I’d love to have you do a guess post on my blog. But I minister to a predominantly Spanish-speaking crowd. Let’s talk soon.

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  2. Bobby,

    The more I read about the evangelical calvinist understanding of election, the more it really starts to “click”. I am listening to great podcasts “Glory to God” by Stephen Freeman and “The evangelist podcast” by Glen scrivener. I really am starting to understand God’s love in a way that I have never experienced before, and it is thanks to you and all the other Christians helping me in my walk with Christ. Thank you very much for this great hope in Christ.

    I think that you should make another post on the topic of judgement. I have been reading through the gospels, and I find that there is a recurring theme in Jesus teaching about his second coming. In particular, he mentions the Judgement of the wicked, using mainly analogies of fire. I would like to understand this topic more, especially because I saw you are reading books on revelation. It seems that most western ideas of God’s judgement at his second coming contradict who God is in Christ, because God’s purposes are never retributive but always restorative! I would love to hear what you have to say. Thank you!

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  3. ” He chose an individual for eternal salvation in the elect humanity of the Son.” Bobby, are you saying that this mean, “He chose Bobby Grow for eternal salvation…”? Or is the “individual” Christ?

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  4. Steve,

    Bobby would be referring to Christ as the individual. The entire essence of election is grounded in the incarnation, and can be found looking no where else but Christ. Christ is the elect individual, and we are elect “in Him” as we participate in his vicarious humanity for us. This is the essence of salvation, and what a great hope indeed!

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  5. The individual is Christ. The syntax of that sentence should make that clear. The context of the post should make that clear. The closing should make that clear. If I was saying what you are suggesting wouldn’t that undermine the whole post and the distinction I am making? That seems pretty clear.

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  6. Bobby,

    Thanks for your response! I like how you use the word “penultimate” when describing judgement because that seems to be how God works. God doesn’t promise that life, and even the afterlife, will not have tribulation and trial, but he always promises restoration as the end. This is something very good to reflect on, and it would still be cool to see a follow up post to the one you linked to me with any future findings (in the post you said you were still “working” on your view with this particular topic). Thanks for all you do I greatly appreciate it!

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  7. I’m starting to realize that what Paul talks about in Gal 3 does not make sense unless if you view it through the lens of union with Christ. Once you do, the concept of Christ’s vicarious humanity can easily be seen in Paul’s thought since only that could explain how Gentiles are now included in Abraham’s blessings.

    So to bring it back to election I would assume that union with Christ is the key for understanding the EC (and Paul’s) view of election. By being in Christ, we share in Christ’s election (Eph 1:4). It would seem that Gal 3 itself points to Christ as the elect one since he is the one who receives Abraham’s blessings, which we then share in by being in Christ.

    Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m just trying to work out the exegetical support for the EC view of election.

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  8. To be fair to the “Classical” view:

    They might retort that despite all of their dogmatics, their concern has always been the frail soul who inquired of his salvation. That without the assurance of knowing in “eternity past”(sic), there is no grounds for assurance. They might rebut that the “evangelical” approach is not incompatible, but answering a different part of the question. One might say that Christ has vicariously been Human for all of mankind, dumping all of our sins into the grave. But what does that mean for “me”.

    I’ve never been in or been comfortable with the “Classical” view, and I reject many of the kind of individualistic navel-gazing quests for assurance. I am content with Spurgeon’s articulation, when he said that if one wanted to know whether he was saved, he had only to look at Christ, and in that moment he would know he was saved. For his own good, despite himself, he lacked the precise mind to understand what exactly everything meant when he so vociferously defended Calvinism.

    But I digress. All I’m saying is that I can understand the “Classical” POV when it is centered around pastoral concerns. It is misguided, but thus it is. Can you give them credit for good intentions ;)?

    As for Union with Christ: I’m realizing that this phrase is (or has become) very popular and quite common across many divides. My original enthusiasm has died down from when I originally discovered this. It might be interesting to see how a Union grounded in Vicarious Humanity might differ or be similar from other doctrinal formulations of union (particularly I think of formulations among high Reformed, Roman Catholic, Anabaptists).

    cal

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  9. As someone who is still somewhat of a Classical Calvinist, I can definitely sense the tension (contradiction?) with the classical view of election. We look to Christ to be assured of our salvation, but it is a decree and not Christ which is the foundation of our election. But if a decree is our foundation, then doesn’t that mean we actually have to look to ourselves and not to Christ for assurance? After all, how can we be so sure that Christ’s work was applied to us if only a predetermined subset have had Christ’s work applied to them? Speaking from personal experience, such a mindset can only lead to terror and being focused on our own works and not Christ himself (my Classical Calvinist friends may have a different experience). EC from that perspective makes a lot more sense.

    The only reason why I haven’t jumped over to EC is because I’m still not entirely sure of my exegetical proposal for Eph 1:4 and because I want to engage more with Classical Calvinism before I decide to make the jump to EC.

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