Unconditional election?

I am currently teaching through systematic theology during adult Sunday School at my church. We are at the point in the curriculum where we are looking at the Ordo Salutis (the Order of Salvation).

Naturally I was a bit apprehensive in approaching this particular set of doctrines because these doctrines can elicit more emotional responses than, say, Christology or Ecclesiology. This more so the case when you come from an Augustian understanding of election, as I do.

I am so thankful that I attend a church and teach a class where civility pervades. The discussion was lively but respectful. Inevitably, however, I received the standard arguments against the Augustinian viewpoint. One in particular I want to address here. And it goes like this:

Pastor, don’t you think that election means that God looks down the spans of time and foresees who will believe and who won’t and then elects based on that?

I think that’s a fair question to ask, especially with Romans 8:29 in view. I disagree with it though and here’s a few reasons why:

  1. It is possible to see foreknew in Romans 8:29 as a future vision, but contextually it doesn’t seem like it fits in Paul’s overall argument. Romans 8 is a chapter concerning assurance. It is flooded with language concerning God’s covenantal love with his people. The verse immediately prior to this tells us that whatever happens in this life, good or bad, God is it using for our good (v.28). It makes sense, then, why the word foreknew (gnosko) is better suited with its other Biblical meaning: God’s relational, covenantal love. It is an intimate term that is used throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament to describe the intimacy between a husband and wife, and also between God and his people. Therefore, whom God knew intimately before he even created them, elected them unto salvation.
  2. If one is going to hold that view, they are going to have to figure out what to do with Ephesians 2:8-9. If someone believes that God elects because he looked into the future and chose those who would believe, then logically they are saying not only that God election is based on merit rather than grace, but they are also saying that it is faith that saves.  Both of these don’t logically work with Ephesians 2:8-9. They are saying election is based on merit because in eternity past God was looking for something someone would do, namely, believe, and then choose then for that reason. But Ephesians 2:9 is clear that salvation isn’t by any work. One may argue that faith isn’t a work, but if God is looking for people who would believe, then he is searching for something someone would do or have and then merit them for it. Further, by holding that view they are also saying that it is faith that saves. But Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that faith does not save us. We are saved by undeserved grace and faith is simply the vehicle by which it is delivered.
  3. Unless they are truly consistent, many Arminians are Augustinians and don’t know it. When I ask most Arminians if they pray for the salvation of their family and friends, their answer is yes. But if they truly believe that is all up to the individual and that God’s sovereignty doesn’t interfere with free choice, then why pray for their salvation unless you intuitively believe in prevenient grace?  However, I have only ever met once consistent Armenian in regards to this. She said she didn’t pray for God to save them but rather for opportunities to hear the gospel and respond on their own. Apparently she believed in God’s sovereignty to lead people to evangelize but not to believe.
  4. This view is fatalistic. If God looks down time and sees who believes and consequently elects them, then there is no chance for any freedom to deviate. We are all held as slaves to the fate of what God has already seen and consequently decreed. There is no true freedom to change. Hence, this view is determinative. 

Obviously there are more places I could go Scripturally (John 1, 3, 6, for example). And while I respect the Arminian view, I think the Augustian view has an overwhelming amount of data pointing truth in its direction.

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