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Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998


Calvinism's View Of "The Inscrutible Basis Of Election"

Calvinist's believe that those of us who are saved were selected to be saved from eternity past on the basis of God's will alone. In saying this, the Calvinist excludes the possibility that God would be acting on a will to respond to something in man. They also believe that we cannot look into this "will" and see any reason why one was selected and not another.

In the book's Introduction I showed how the early church writers (AD 150 - 400) tended to teach that God foreknew from eternity some fact about each, particular human being upon which He based His decision to, save or not save them. [1]

In most cases the fact, in the early Fathers' view, was that these individuals would have or not have faith. The early church Fathers had read into the Bible texts the notions of Philo whose philosophy taught that God could foresee a future thing as though it had some type of virtual existence (apart from God causing it to exist).

Facts, however, do not have an independent existence. They are determined by God or by some other free agent. Before their determination, the facts do not exist. If this were not true then God and future facts would be dual ultimates or dual gods, and we know the Bible does not allow that. We have shown in earlier chapters that God limits His sovereignty in a way that allows man to freely determine his response to God's call to faith. In this particular and very limited way, men bring certain states into existence that have not been actually predetermined by God.

Augustine, as we saw, attempted to correct the early Fathers who did not think this way about facts. They often thought like Philo, that independent facts existed for God to see. Augustine's correction, as I have observed, was that God's election is not based on what God foresees from eternity, but is based on the mystery of His unsearchable will.

I agree with Augustine that God's choice of particular men is not based on what He foreknows or foresees about them from eternity. Even though 1 Peter 1:1,2 says that God's elect are "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God," the wording, "according to", does not require the understanding of, "on the basis of" ("according to" can mean "in a manner consistent with" or, "in a manner depending on" or both). Nor does it necessitate an individual's selection from eternity. Augustine did have warrant for making a correction, but, whatever the basis of God's choice, Augustine was wrong in thinking that the Bible teaches that God makes a choice from eternity of particular ones of us. The proof of this error has to do with clarity about St. Paul's meaning, first, with regard to the objects of election; whether he viewed the objects of his discussion as certain particular persons or as a class of persons, and second, whether Paul meant "selection" by his use of words like "elect."

I will deal with this question shortly, but before doing so it is important to affirm that I do agree with Augustine's observation that God's choice is based on His will. The critical distinction being that I don't agree that God's will is any longer an obscure, inscrutable mystery. God's choosing is based on what He wants, but what He wants has been revealed to us in the New Testament. There we see that God's "choosing", "calling", "naming", or "election" is synonymous with His purpose towards men; a purpose which He has had from all eternity ( 2 Tim. 1:9). As I epitomized in chapter Three, God's purpose of the ages is, through the work of His Son to have a people for Himself who would be to the praise of His glory, whom He would possess by means of His grace through faith.

Such a choice; such a purpose; such a decision makes our Lord Jesus Christ the Elect One par excellence. He becomes the Elect One because He is the One whom the Father loved ( Eph. 1:6). God favored us in this One and in Him we are also chosen as His inheritance ( Eph. 1:11). We were not eternally "in Him", but the choice to include, in His purpose, those who by grace through faith would come to be "in Him", was an election made from eternity. When people enter into Christ, His election becomes their election. This result, in history, was by arrangements established from eternity.

What I have done in these last few sentences is to make plain that God's choice rests initially upon a corporate group; that is, the body of those who believe. Paul in Eph. 1 & 2 is oriented toward thinking in terms of groups (i.e. believers, unbelievers, Jews, Gentiles, c.f. 2:14). God would then have His choice rest upon each individual that is joined to His Son. The only individual who was actually "selected" from eternity was God's own Son. All other individuals are considered "elect" when they come to be in unity with the elect One.

Therefore, part of the error of some early Fathers into which Augustine continued, was the failure to distinguish the primarily corporate nature of God's election from a virtual selection of certain ones of us from eternity. The other part of the early Fathers' error was corrected by Augustine; that had to do with their belief that "foreknowledge from eternity" was the basis of God's election of particular persons. Foreknowledge, however, is the basis for the predestination of those who do believe, and a "commissioning" of them, as I will demonstrate in the next chapter.

SUMMARY We are made aware of God's intentions for us in the New Testament and it is called the mystery revealed. God's will regarding who should be saved is made plain. It is not as Saint Augustine said, "inscrutable". There are three possible views of what it means to be chosen by God and in conclusion I would like to give Forster and Marston's analysis of them:

The three views might be summarized thus:

(a) Because of our works and merits we have earned the right to share the election of Christ (the Pelagian view).

(b) God chose us individually before the world began, and because of that choice he gave us faith as an irresistible gift and put us into Christ (Augustine).

(c) God placed us in Christ not because we earned it or deserved it, but because in his free grace he counted our faith as right-standing. Since we are in Christ, and he is the chosen One, we are chosen in him and share his election.

Augustine was right to condemn view (a), but there are serious problems in his own view. What, in his view, is the significance of the phrase "in him"? In Ephesians the phrase "in Christ" occurs 14 times, "in whom" occurs 6 times and "in him" 4 times--always in reference to Christ. Ephesians 1:3 speaks of the blessings we have in Christ, and verse 4 is a direct continuation to add that we were also chosen in him. If Augustine were right then Paul surely needed only to say: "even as he chose us before the foundation of the world..." But Paul in fact says: "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world ..." Why should Paul have added the phrase "in him" if it had no function? As it is, its addition seems directly to contradict Augustine's view. Surely to be, a "believer" in this context means nothing else than to be "in Christ." Thus Augustin's words could be rendered as: "He chose them that they might be in 'Christ,' not because they were already so." But Paul does not say that we were chosen to be put into Christ, but that we were chosen in Christ. If we were chosen (in Christ), then surely we were chosen because we were in him (and he has been chosen) --which is exactly what Augustine denied.

We have already seen (p. 140 in _Strateqy_) the confusion caused by Augustine's application to the election of the believers, of Christ's words to the apostles in John 15:16. Yet it is this verse which Augustine used as the main support for his view! Thus we find him repeating three or four times an argument like this: "I ask, who can hear the Lord saying, 'You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,' and can dare to say that men believe in order to be elected, when they are rather elected to believe ...". This is the mainstay of his argument, on the basis of which he effectively ignores the phrase "in him" in Ephesians 1:4.

These then, are the very serious problems in Augustine's view of election. But his view became so influential in western Christianity ... that we might think of the issue as a choice between views (a) and (b) above, which it certainly is not. Any true Christian must rule out view (a), as did Augustine, but whether Augustine's own view or view (c) is the correct one needs to be given full considerations (note: Roger T. Forstar and V. Paul Marston, _God's Strategy in Human History_ (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 1973)]

I conclude that beginning with men's faith in Him, God foresees the certain affinity between the elect One and those who would cleave to Him by faith. In this sense we are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God."


To the extent that some early Fathers may have taught God's election of individuals as based on His foreknowledge of them, beginning with their actual show of faith, to that extent I agree with those early Fathers as I will show further on. (c.f. Clement of Rome who by using the phrase "to partake of His election" in his famous first-century epistle, shows that he thought of "election" of individuals to have a beginning with the individual's faith. Clement was a very early Father and may have been untainted by Philo and well acquainted with St. Paul ( Phil. 4:3).


* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.