[serialposts]It’s one question that seems to pop up in nearly every theological conversation I end up having. So many other things seem to ride on how you view the difference between predestination and free will. The Bible teaches both, but we often struggle trying to reconcile the two. This lesson in my study on the theology of salvation explores the key ideas related to these polar opposite schools of thought.
Election and Foreordination
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word bachar means “to choose” or “to select”, and in the majority of it’s uses refers to God as the one who elects. It typically refers o God’s choice of Israel as His people.
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
~ Isaiah 41:9
However, in reading passages like Amos 3:1-2, Luke 12:48, and Romans 2:17-24 we see that there’s a strong warning that being “chosen” also comes with greater responsibility and potentially greater punishment.
In the New Testament the words for election are:
Daniel B. Pecota (the author of my Soteriology study guide) points out:
“The verb always appears in the middle voice, indicating direct personal interest of the one doing the choosing – in this case, God Himself. Therefore, it is never regarded as enslavement to fate nor is ti separated from responsible decision.”
Views of the Basis on Which God Elects and Foreordains
There are three main views regarding election:
- Calvinist – Also referred to as Reformed Theology, this view states that God elects unconditionally. He has chosen some to be saved (which would indicate that others will not). The primary focus of this perspective is on God as being the one who decides.
- Arminian – This view states that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge that man would choose to follow Him and be saved. The primary focus of this view is on man as being the one who decides based on his free will.
- Barthian – According this view, “election is, primarily, the elections of Jesus Christ; secondly, the election of the community; and thirdly, the election of the individual” (The Doctrine of Salvation, Horne). Critics of this view claim that it points to Universalism because of the claims that all men have been elected, but unbelievers just don’t know about their election.
God’s Foreordination Does Not Cause Men to be Saved
The word meaning to foreordain occurs six times in the New Testament:
- Acts 4:27-28
- Romans 8:29-30 (twice in this passage)
- 1 Corinthians 2:7
- Ephesians 1:5
- Ephesians 1:11-12
Close examination of these verses reveals three things about foreordination:
- Basic Purpose: We are to have a living and holy relationship with God as His children
- What IS Foreordained: God’s redemptive plan, and us as individuals
- What’s NOT Foreordained: The details of our lives as in some form of fatalism where we have no choice (or free will)
If foreordination (predestination) is not some form of unavoidable fate, then it would seem to reason that it’s not something that causes us to be saved, but refers more to the purpose in our salvation.
existentialism (ˌɛɡzɪˈstɛnʃəˌlɪzəm) — n
a modern philosophical movement stressing the importance of personal experience and responsibility and the demands that they make on the individual, who is seen as a free agent in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe
Source: Collins English Dictionary
Because of its emphasis on personal experience, existentialism typically breaks away from reality and reason. In the secular sense, the “emphasis is on anxiety and alienation,” and “a leap of faith to nonrational optimism must be made.”
In the Christian sense religious truth is “separated from rational, historical truth found in the Scriptures.” This results in the blind leap of faith that many critics blame Christians of.
Salvation in History
Where existentialism disregards the historical truths, other schools of thought emphasize the importance of these facts as being crucial to salvation. The historical Jesus Christ is essential to Christianity. People who lean more on the historical view also tend to believe that, “one of the chief modes of revelation is the historical event.”
Personally, I feel that the correct view of salvation relies both on the personal experience (existential) and the historical truth. My own experience in relationship with the historical Jesus is what makes my salvation experience as robust as it is.
The ordo salutis (literally “the way of salvation”) refers to the process that one goes through as they experience salvation. There are three main schools of thought on the ordo salutis: the Lutheran, the Arminian, and the Reformed. Of the three, the first two put the emphasis on man’s part (free will) in salvation, and the last one puts the emphasis on God’s part (predestination) in salvation.
The Lutheran View
- Conversion (repentance)
- Mystical union
- External call
- Repentance and faith
The Divine Mystery of Salvation
To quote the final statement from this lesson in my study guide:
“The Bible does not present us with an ordo salutis, but it does not forbid its attempt. We must never emasculate the salvation God has given by supposing we can make it fit neatly into a scheme of our own making. God was and is and always will be greater than our theology.”