Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Christ-Centred Corporate Election

I mentioned in the previous discussion that I had done a study on election a while back - as it is rather large (!) I thought I might include as a new post as it spells out some of the nuances that are hard to put into brief comments and hopefully gives an overview of some of the development of the doctrine and why it developed that way - and what I think is a good synthesis of some of the current thought. I have reduced the referencing but happy to provide you with more if you wish - Clive 

“The impasse to which the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism leads suggests that the difficulty may lie with the context in which theologians have traditionally posed the question” (Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

The context from which we attempt to explain the mysteries of God will certainly always influence our conclusions. Jesus himself framed his explanation of the Kingdom of God within an expectancy-laden Jewish context. Later Paul - the first theologian to attempt to interpret the story of Jesus in the post-resurrection world - spoke and taught in his new context.  He faced new questions that didn’t exist in the pre-church world – especially concerning the issue of election. Later other theologians built on the foundation of those who had gone before, examining and critiquing their conclusions. They were influenced by the societal, political and philosophical context in which they found themselves as well as by their own background. Looking back through history we may glean insight from those who have gone before concerning the doctrine of election. In understanding their context we can see why certain aspects may have been emphasized and how these paved the way for new perspectives such as Grenz proposes.

God’s eternal purpose
The Jewish people held to a strong sense of election. They expected Messiah to bring the promised Kingdom. It gave them courage and hope that a deliverer was coming who would re-establish them as God’s chosen ones. The Maccabees had lived and died for that hope. This expectation was framed by the stories from their history – the creation, exile, exodus and priestly narratives. Jesus built his ministry around these narratives as one who called people back to their image-bearing purpose (e.g Mark 10:6, “from the beginning…”), called them out of the shame of exile (e.g. Luke 4:18-19 announcing the time of restoration to favour to the broken and scattered), set them free from the slave-masters (e.g. Luke 13:16 where Jesus frees a woman “whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years…”)  and became both sacrifice and high-priest to reconcile humankind to God (e.g. Matt 20:28 where Jesus declares his calling to “give his life as a ransom for many.”)

First century Jews perceived their election in very concrete earthly terms. This coloured their perception of what Messiah would be and do. So in preparing the way for Messiah, John the Baptist pointed out that being a descendant of Abraham did not constitute automatic membership of God’s eternal community. Instead the fruits of repentance were required (Luke 3:8). That someone could be part of God’s elect yet also rejected by God was shocking to them and something Paul later referred to as a “mystery” (Romans 11:25). This mystery forms part of the Calvinism/ Arminianism impasse. Election speaks not just of those who will eventually “inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17), but also of election to serve God’s purposes – which may not constitute the same thing. Election is to be applied therefore to those God has chosen to be instruments in achieving the purpose – Israel, Pharoah, Moses, Jacob, Esau etc. Romans 11-13 speaks of this using various illustrations.

Grenz argues for another perspective on election - that scriptures such as Ephesians 1:4 that speak of being “chosen by God” speak of God’s commitment to bring to full fruition his eternal purpose in those who have chosen Christ. Robert Shank puts it this way:
“The certainty of election and perseverance is with respect to the corporate body, the ekkl√ęsia, rather than with respect to particular men unconditionally. The election is corporate and comprehends individuals only in identification and association with the elect body. With equal truth, Paul can assure us that God has "chosen us [corporately] in Christ before the foundation of the world" and Peter can admonish us to "give diligence to make your calling and election [individually and personally] sure." (Robert Shank - Elect in the Son)

This “eternal purpose” goes beyond the salvation of lost souls to the glorification of a people who will be the community of God through eternity. Grenz say: “…Reformed theologies, whether Calvinist or Arminian, frame election within the context of the eternal past, for they enquire about the decree concerning the final salvation of individuals present in the mind of God prior to creation.” (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

What is God’s eternal purpose? In Ephesians Paul says this includes “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Eph 1:10) Speaking in terms of the election of the Gentiles he says:
“… you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22)

So God’s eternal purpose is centred in Christ, includes all things in the heavens and the earth and it is corporate - involving a people called and chosen from every nation who will be fitted together metaphorically here as a holy temple; a dwelling place of God. Language reaches its limitations to describe this corporate calling. Other metaphors used to describe this reality include the “body of Christ” (Col 1:24), the “bride of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7), the “Church” (Col 1:24) and “new Jerusalem.” (Rev 21:2) Grenz summarises: “Viewed from the perspective of divine intention, election is fundamentally corporate. God’s eternal purpose… is that through the Spirit we participate in the glorious relationship that the Son enjoys with the Father.”

Biblical assessment of election
To assess this view of election we will look at its origin and usage in scripture. The Greek “eklektos” is usually translated “elect” or “chosen”. Nearly every occurrence of the word’s “chosen”, “choose”, “chose” or “elect” in the NT is “eklektos” or a derivative. The equivalent Hebrew word is “bachar”, almost always translated as “choose”, “chosen”, “chose” or similar.

The usage of “bachar” relates to the common understanding of choosing. It is applied to God choosing people (Gen 18:19 - the Lord speaks of choosing Abraham) and places (Deut 12:21). He states that his choice of people is not based on their merits or strengths (Deut 7:7) He sets apart people from their mother’s womb for certain tasks (Israel/Jesus in Isaiah 49:5 & Paul in Gal 1:15). Similarly “bachar” is used for human choice. God instructs his people to “choose life” (Deut 30:19) and to choose whom they will serve (Josh 24:15). Similarly David chooses five stones to fight Goliath (1 Sam 17:40); Joshua chooses those who will be in his army (Joshua 8:3) and Israel chooses other gods - forsaking their God (Judges 10:14).

The main focus of God’s choosing in the OT is concerning Abraham and later the descendants of his grandson Jacob known collectively as Israel (“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Deut 14:2). What are they chosen for? Abraham himself was chosen as an instrument through which God would bless “all the families of the earth.” (Gen 12:3). Later he tells Israel that they are called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6). To take this priestly role to continue the calling of Abraham to minister blessing to the nations they were to be set apart. They were called as a distinctive (holy) people who were to learn new patterns of life that represented the ways of God. The destructive patterns of the nations from which they had come and lived among were to be shunned. They were called and appointed as God’s representative people for the sake of his restoration of humanity and creation to himself.

Individuals within the nation of Israel were also spoken of as God’s chosen (for example Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon). These were called specifically as leaders to fulfill God’s plan for the nation. To some degree Israel was faithful to their calling as were some of the called leadership. With some he was pleased, and with some who chose other gods and did not choose “the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:18-31) he was not pleased. Paul goes to great lengths to equate this OT example of how many of the people fell away in the wilderness with the temptations that we face as the NT people of God (1 Cor 10:1-13).

Peter boldly claims the full elective promises God made to Israel as now belonging to the church. Drawing from Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Hosea he states:
“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD...”( 1 Pet 2:9-10)

Here “bachar” has now become in the Greek NT “eklektos”. Is there any difference between OT calling and NT calling in terms of the grounds, goal and scope? The NT church is literally the “ekklesia” – a corporate people “called out from” the world. So the goal appears to be the same as the calling of Israel – to bring blessing and restoration to the world. The grounds for NT calling are the same as the OT. The calling is based on God’s choice not on our merits or strengths. Paul says that God: “…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity…”(2 Tim 1:9). The scope of God’s election is clearly wider in NT terms.

The Reformers – a search for certainty
So we have established that God calls people and nations to his purposes apart from their merit from prior to their birth to fulfill his purposes. However as Jack Cottrell says: “…the biblical doctrine of election is much broader in scope than election to eternal glory. Its broadest context is the total redemptive purpose of God. In choosing the cast for the grand drama of redemption, the sovereign God selected certain people to fill certain roles or to accomplish specific tasks.” (Jack W.Cottrell, Grace Unlimited). Paul tells us that salvation and calling are both from eternity and neither is according to works (2 Tim 1:9). Strict Calvinism would say that certain people have been chosen for eternal glory and others have not (the concept of “limited atonement”). They say that while we do have freewill, God either hardens us away from himself or persuades us irresistibly toward himself because in our state of total depravity we are incapable of responding to him without this irresistible grace. To dispute this they say is to assume that God places higher value on human freewill than on his own glory. Why must there be this dichotomy?

To answer this we need to understand the Reformers context. Calvin (1509-1564) was greatly influenced by Augustine (354-430). Augustine didn’t draw a distinction between election to works and election to ultimate salvation. He says: “There was one lump of perdition … out of Adam to which only punishment was due; from this same lump, vessels were made which are destined for honour. For the potter has authority over the same lump of clay …whose just damnation was already assured.” (The Christian Theology Reader)

Augustine saw the passage in Romans 9 regarding the potter and the clay in terms of original sin and original guilt - assuming that we are born into not just a nature marred by sin but into actual guilt. Perhaps Augustine’s context helped him to make this conclusion. He lived in an age when the judgment of the Emperor was final and institutions including the Church saw themselves with this kind of power. Ordinary people were powerless before the might of the empire, so it was assumed that they were equally powerless before God. So to Calvinists “grace” was a force that compels those who are not capable of believing into belief. (The Augustinian concept of Prevenient Grace “…it is God who makes them to will the good which they refused…”)

To this the Reformers introduced the concept of penal substitution. Rather than the arbitrary and unquestioned word of authority, law had become important.
“The predominance of the penal conception may be connected historically with the demise of the feudal system and the rise of nations. The law of the state replaced the honor of the ruler as the foundation for social order. In response, theologians came to view sin as a transgression of the codified law…” (Grenz)

Grenz adds that to Reformers the law-court model became the “quasi-orthodox doctrine of the atonement…” Now the issue of election became focused on who are the justified and on what basis are they justified? Any passages that discussed election or pre-destination were then viewed from this context. This assumption created much of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism.

The Reformers also reacted to the superstitious folk-religion that much of Christianity had become under medieval Christendom, whereby the common person was enslaved by ignorance to the rich and powerful church/state. One of the greatest upheavals in history was taking place. Columbus had “discovered” the “New World” in 1492. Galileo (1564-1642) was developing the “Scientific Method” - paving the way for the “Age of Reason”. Science and discovery were deeply challenging some age-old assumptions of cosmology. The printing press (invented in the late 15th century) paved the way for literacy and mass communication. The Church was in defensive mode. Within this mindset theologians wanted certainty of doctrine. The written word was becoming increasingly powerful. Words began to be more than descriptions of truth – they became actual truth to be defended and used as weapons. “The enlightenment gave us rationalism, the scientific method, and knowledge used in service (or submission) to some other aim… to assert a certain kind of mastery over our environment in service of our worldview and goals.” (Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership)

Narrative began to be replaced with dogma. Mystery – equated with superstition – bowed down to doctrinal certainty. Concepts from scientific method were applied to theology to formulate statements such as the TULIP doctrines (Total depravity, Unconditional predestination, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance). So Reformation systematic theology was the result of the cultural shift away from institutional power to the quest for power through knowledge.  

Arminius (1560-1609) was a follower of Calvin. “The whole debate concerning the nature of freewill was within the context of Calvinism” – (Gonzalez - The Story of Christianity Vol 2). Arminius began to doubt the strict Calvinist view of predestination as standing in opposition to free will, finding in it a harsh view of God. His position was that despite humankind’s state of total depravity, “prevenient grace” dispensed by the Holy Spirit allowed for all people to have the possibility to believe. He said: "…the grace sufficient for salvation is conferred on the Elect, and on the Non-elect; that, if they will, they may believe or not believe, may be saved or not be saved." His view of predestination was modified from the Calvinist view (that those who would be saved was completely pre-determined by God) to the view that this is not pre-determined but that God speaks of the “elect” through fore-knowledge of those who will respond to prevenient grace.

The post-modern context
Karl Barth (1886-1968) paved the way for Grenz’s view by questioning where his own Reformed tradition and assumptions were taking the German church in the years leading to the Second World War. He saw the danger of exalting Empire - institutional and cultural pride.  He saw the necessity of bringing the focus back to Christ - the elect one (Luke 9:35). All of creation has its source, meaning and destiny in him (Rom 11:36). Christ is the rejected and elected one for all humanity. All are therefore called and chosen. Barth has been accused of Universalism. Erickson disagrees explaining Barth’s position is that: “Although all are elect, not all live as elect. Some live as if they were rejected, but this is one’s own choosing and doing.” (Millard Erickson - Christian Theology ). Our job as God’s elect Church is to announce the defeat of evil by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. As Paul majestically puts it:
“…God…reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.(2 Cor 5:18-19)

Interestingly this perspective has similarities to the view of Irenaeus (140-202) from a time before Church and Empire had become enmeshed. “Irenaeus viewed the atonement as cosmic or all-inclusive in its intention. Jesus not only redeems individuals but also humankind; he came not only for individual creatures but for creation.” (Grenz)

We are in the midst of a new historical upheaval comparable in scale to that which triggered the Reformation. As medieval became modern, so modern is becoming post-modern. Just as Western society has again moved to new forms of communication (the internet and the “information age”) so there has in tandem been a change in the way we think. Post-modernity is in part a reaction to the perceived sterility of the cold, legalistic, individualistic perspectives of modernity including the truth-claims of Reformation theology. Scientific rationalism has not produced its promised utopia for the same reason that systematic theology has not brought us the Kingdom of God. The focus is too narrow and does not take into account the full nature of truth and the full nature of humanity. While modernity focused on rationality, post-modernity focuses on experience and narrative. Many view post-modernity as simply a cynical rejection of Absolute Truth yet when we read the gospels we see Jesus as startlingly post-modern. He doesn’t make abstract truth-claims but instead invites people into a life (a story); into a way (following and learning of him); and into a truth that resides in a person, not a list of doctrinal statements (John 14:6).

When Jesus explained things his usual response was not a theological treatise but an instruction (“follow me”) or a story (“…the Kingdom of God is like…”). These views of the Kingdom are about restoration of relationship with God, with each other and with his creation. So Grenz’s relational view of election goes further toward describing reality as Jesus described it. Linear thinking, scientific method, rationalistic or legalistic thinking is simply inferior when it comes to expressing the immensity of God’s ways given the nature of God and the nature of humanity. Language and science and mathematics are only weak attempts to describe reality. Experience, pictures, relationships and narrative are actually much better as they communicate on so many different levels.

What is required is a re-assessment of some basic assumptions that have been made by putting everything in terms of a penal substitution model. Simply classing the “fall” in terms of disobedience to God’s law misunderstands the nature of humanity created in God’s image (Gen 1:26). Instead from a relational perspective we see that God desired fellowship with his created beings in a similar way to what was already experienced within the Godhead. This means that we have a degree of sovereignty. We are “a little lower than God” (Psalm 8:5 - NASB) but we do bear enough of his image to possess authority to resist his will to some level – not in an ultimate way that can thwart his plans and ultimate purpose, but enough to feel the effects of our choices and influence those around us. God has given us this great dignity as those who can potentially know him. But with that comes great responsibility and real consequences. We can choose to own our independent “kingdoms” or we can chose to submit our creativity and authority to his sovereignty in loving worship and become all we were created as humans to be as part of his eternal community.

God also possesses qualities that we do not – omniscience and omnipotence. He is ultimately sovereign and does not choose to share those qualities with his creation. This perhaps explains why we struggle to comprehend how freewill and sovereignty can fit side by side without conflict. We are not ultimately sovereign or all powerful or all knowing. Perhaps in our attempts to dissect and predict God we are violating our boundaries – trying to eat from a tree that promises to make us wise (Gen 3:6) but professing to be wise we become fools (Rom 1:22)? Our grandiose schemes of salvation and justification may be no more than wanting to “be like God and know good and evil” (Gen 3:5) when instead we are simply called “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8)? “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house [or a systematic theology] you could build for Me?” (Is 66:1). Do we think we can contain God and predict his every action like he is some kind of scientific experiment?

So in the context of the cultural move from “modern” to “post-modern” it makes sense that contemporary theologians have tried to take perhaps a less deterministic and more humble view of election in terms of the larger narrative and the eternal purposes of God. This change in context is comparable to another cosmological shift, whereby ultimate human destiny is not the centre of God’s purposes as the Reformers assumed. Wright says: “We are in orbit around God and his purposes, not the other way round.” (NT Wright - Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision), Grenz explains:
“The proper orientation point for theology, however is not the unfathomable eternal past. Instead we must look to the revealed intention of God for his creation in which his work will culminate… the final goal of history is logically first in the order of being.”

Application to ministry
What does this all mean for us today? Society’s critical issues today often stem from hopelessness, anxiety and loss of community.  The gospel from a perspective of Christ-centred corporate election means that we are ministering directly to these gaping wounds. We do not take an individualistic view of salvation but a multi-faceted view that includes responsibility for our communities. We present a God who is the liberator of lost humanity, who as Barth points out has become the elect one on behalf of all humanity – both as sufferer and overcomer. We have only good news to announce – a free gift of reconciliation. We also have good news that we are all called to be part of an eternal community that has real relevance in practical day-to-day life.

We are called as temples of God – to be filled with his presence so we never need to be alone – and to share this “koinonia” life with others (the Greek word we translate as “fellowship” which literally means “the shared life”).

God’s presence and acceptance and his guarantee to complete the good work he has begun in us as his elect people gives great confidence. We know that our sovereign God is committed to us so there is no need to strive. All this is based purely on God’s kindness in Christ.  There is nothing we can do except gratefully respond and humbly submit our creativity and authority to his.

For discipleship it means that we are called for purpose, and we are called into a purposeful community. We are also uniquely called from our mother’s womb for good works that he has prepared for us. Our calling goes beyond simply proclaiming the gospel message but a recovery of our creational mandate to take responsible dominion (Gen 1:26) and model to the world how humans were created to be.

For worship this perspective means that our focus is on Jesus as the centre - not primarily on us or on our needs. Christ is the meaning and summation of all creation. Our lives and indeed every institution, movement and belief system ultimately must be measured up to him. He is to be feared and worshipped – not because he is arbitrary and vengeful – but because he is majestic and wise.


Grenz reverses the perspective of the Reformers. They were looking from ancient times – when God chose those who would be his - and trying to reconcile this with the concept of what part humans play in this sorting process. If it were based on human choice how could God possibly know who would choose him and who would not? Arminianism attributes this to God’s foreknowledge. Calvinism attributed this to God’s sovereignty over all things in that any real choice on the part of humankind would reduce God to less that omnipotent and reduce his glory accordingly. So Calvinism says that God has chosen who will be saved and granted them irresistible grace. Both movements were focused on penal substitution rather than relational reconciliation. So putting together Grenz, Wright and Barth the goal of God is the eternal corporate community of God’s elect within a renewed, put-right creation. The Church is both the agency of this plan and it’s goal, whereby we become the dwelling place of God, the New Jerusalem, and the Bride of the Lamb.  


  1. WOW, this is an incredible article! In fact, I cannot find anything to chunk a rock or two at...yet, but I will keep looking. (LOL?)

  2. Really neat article Clive, I think you presented your thoughts clearly and respectfully. I like much of what you've written. I would like to debate a couple of points, but before that I want to justify the (limited) use of modernism, and an individual aspect to election.

    The benefits you point out of a future perspective for election are great and I agree with them all, and I agree that this focus is essential! They are not negated by an individualised perspective of election (although the community aspect may not be as obvious unless it is emphasised). The individualised perspective is important for such things as fighting sin, evangelism, prayer, making important decisions, valuing each individual in a church, trusting God in the face of bad choices by individuals (leaders, etc). Questions surrounding these concepts will require addressing the individualised aspect of God's interaction with humanity, which necessarily includes the concepts of sovereignty, free will, sin, grace, Hell, etc. So I think it is important to address these things, and part of that involves the past (as well as the future). Merely avoiding these perspectives does not necessarily solve the problems that prompted them.

    Such a dual perspective on election was in fact always taught by both Calvin and Arminius, and is one of the original five points of Arminianism presented to the Synod of Dort prompting the TULIP defence. However, the five TULIP points do not directly contradict any of the arminianists points, instead they provide balance with other perspectives. In other words, U does not deny the future collective sense of election (which Calvin also taught), it merely describes such election as 'unconditional' (meaning, not based on foreseen characteristics that God did not Himself create, and by extension not related to anything truly merited to humanity apart from grace). The other points, taken together with U, are what make election necessarily about individual salvation from eternity past, as well as collective salvation for eternity future.

    In other words, as I've discussed elsewhere, determinism (in an individualistic sense) is much broader than election alone. There are 'non-election' verses concerning the sovereignty of God and the power of individual man, and verses teaching that God is in absolute intimate control over our wills and holiness. There are verses about the Holy Spirit and the stages of salvation which, although affirming the necessity of our wills (as one stage in the process), also affirm God's control over it. Then there is secular evidence concerning marketing and placebo effect and psychology and upbringing, etc, which indicate very clearly that we have far far less control over our wills and desires (and even 'faith') than we like to admit. There are philosophical arguments that make alternative positions implausible or unjust from God's perspective. So the individual perspective is very applicable to the Scripture and to real life.

  3. We've talked a lot in the past about abstract knowledge vs mystery and relational knowledge! For the sake of others I'll summarise my views here:

    I don't think the 'mystery' referred to in Scriptures is something that is not understandable. It is something that would be not understandable except for revelation (which has now been supplied). 'Doctrinal certainty' is not opposed to Biblical 'mystery', but idolising doctrinal certainty it can certainly be opposed to trust in God and humility.

    Post-modernism is an important reaction to the problems of modernism (idolising doctrinal certainty), but it has its own problems (avoiding doctrinal exploration). Both modernism and post-modernism can of course be used as a method and not a philosophical standpoint, which has the advantage of being free to apply both as required to maximise our benefit (knowledge and delight in God) and avoid the problems of each.

    I still believe systematic theology and doctrine and abstract truth and science are important. And I don't think they are necessarily 'inferior' - MOST of Paul's writings were of this nature. And remember that Jesus was addressing the Jewish culture - his use of story may relate more to that than its 'superiority' at all times. Asserting that thinking and forming theologies is somehow wrong or inferior, is stepping WAY outside what Scripture actually says.

    Just because we struggle to reconcile two truths does not mean we should criticise those who try, or worse make assumptions about their character or motives. Systematic theology should never be about 'scientifically predicting God' or 'putting God in a box' or 'being grandiose' or 'eating the forbidden fruit'. Its about trying to know God better (in fullness, including abstract head knowledge), and it is worthwhile. But modernism does have a narrow scope when considered on its own, and without a post-modern perspective can lead to unnecessary pride and division.

  4. The idea of prevenient grace makes no sense to me, to be honest. If grace is truly an internal inclination to love God, or a freeing to see things clearly - then, given enough or the right kind of grace, all men will see that God is their greatest joy and trustworthy and loving and fulfils their purpose, etc. In other words, such an idea of grace CAN save everyone if enough is given (unless you believe God created some with an inability to respond to grace, or with a random unpredictable choice generator NOT based on anything, and thus not stating anything about the individual anyway). On what basis did Christ choose to show 'so much and no more' to all of humanity - so that it is only enough for a select few? Isn't this just another form of calvinism? Or, if the grace is individualised (which experience tells us), the same question applies. I agree (to some extent) with 'prevenient grace' - that God gives even the non-elect some grace merely by keeping His image in the world to some degree, and universally calling people to Himself. But the reason God limited His grace to some and not to others can't be based ONLY on who would respond to his grace He has chosen to give - this would be quite circular. I believe it is based partly the characters God needed to develop over the course of this life, in interaction with EVERYTHING else He planned to do, to maximise His glory and the happiness of the elect.

    I agree that salvation is much broader than simply law-breaking guilt and penal substitution. And I like how you put it - the honour of the ruler as the foundation of social order. Applying this to Jesus is a neat picture! And you're right that total depravity and the potter's clay are NOT mainly about 'forced automatic transgression of the law'. It is mainly about our role as image bearers in the experiential temporal world - and how God has deliberately limited his expression for a time and allowed evil to exist, so that the real power of his eternal purposes can be demonstrated in the face of this contrary force. But I DON'T think scripture teaches we have 'sovereignty' in the same way God is sovereign - i.e fundamentally determining anything in reality. However, we have sovereignty in our role (so God determines that our choices and interactions with reality are what will bring about His purposes) and in how God treats us (He allows Free Agency - i.e. real characters and expression of those characters. And He works to allow our actions to fundamentally express our collective human nature in reality).

    I don't think the Scriptures teach automatic unity with Christ and application of his rejection / election for all humanity. Instead it teaches that we are united by faith, baptism, spiritual filling, etc. In essence we are all invited (commanded) to be united with Christ, but its not automatic. This does NOT mean universalism is false - it just means it happens through unity with Christ, which is a stepwise focus. Now, things are confused a little when we consider the Hebrew concept of 'spiritual truths' - they spoke as if they already existed BECAUSE it was God's eternal purpose that they WOULD exist. They could speak with certainty about the reconciliation of all things because they knew it WOULD happen, not because it automatically had already happened.

  5. Hi Josh - just picking up on your first comment:
    "The individualised perspective is important for such things as fighting sin, evangelism, prayer, making important decisions, valuing each individual in a church, trusting God in the face of bad choices by individuals (leaders, etc). Questions surrounding these concepts will require addressing the individualised aspect of God's interaction with humanity, which necessarily includes the concepts of sovereignty, free will, sin, grace, Hell, etc. So I think it is important to address these things, and part of that involves the past (as well as the future). Merely avoiding these perspectives does not necessarily solve the problems that prompted them."

    Agreed, but I think how we view ourselves - primarily as individuals or primarily as part of a people on a journey together with God from eternity past to eternity future - makes a big difference to these issues of lifestyle also. Personally this corporate sense helps me to see my corporate responsibility - and also God's commitment not just to me as an individual but to his cosmic purposes of which I am one part. And it helps me do my best to be a faithful part of God's elect - not as 1 Cor 10:1-13 as mentioned above points out - like one who misses out on the promises of God through the same example of disobedience. I also find that this has helped my prayer life - I never really considered that the Lord's prayer uses "us" all the time and not "me". When I pray now I'm not primarily focusing on myself but "us" - I include my family, friends, community in this prayer - praying on behalf of those who aren't crying out to God with understanding yet but who are feeling the pain of this broken world. I think personal salvation is found in the big picture of God's cosmic purposes rather than the other way around. I've also found I have a great burden for the well-being of my community and search for practical ways to see the Kingdom expressed among us. So there is a very strong outworking of this change in perspective for me.

    I'll come back to your other points.

  6. Hey Clive, thanks for sharing your write up! I am really keen to comment but don't really have the time at the moment. Will be back later!

  7. Hi Josh, just addressing your comments about "mystery" as follows:
    "I don't think the 'mystery' referred to in Scriptures is something that is not understandable. It is something that would be not understandable except for revelation (which has now been supplied). 'Doctrinal certainty' is not opposed to Biblical 'mystery', but idolising doctrinal certainty it can certainly be opposed to trust in God and humility."

    As I understand and as you state the revelation of mysteries is God's prerogative - as is the hiding of certain things. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God was a mystery revealed through Paul, but it was certainly hinted at pretty strongly by Jesus and the OT writers, Christ himself revealed as both Lion of Judah (Kingly Messiah) and Lamb of God (Sacrifice) was another mystery that basically everyone missed until it happened, as I mentioned above in the article the hardening of Israel was something they never saw coming, the mystery of the resurrection (as we have alluded to in an earlier post concerning the state of the dead) is something we kind of get but not really - but will be obvious in retrospect no doubt. Ephesians 1:8-10 speaks of the summing up of all things in Christ as a mystery... we know it will happen but how that works out in terms of renewed creation, the destruction of evil, individual judgement and so on we can only really speculate about because the Bible deliberately I believe doesn't make it that plain. Colossians 2:2 hints that all God's mysteries are hidden in Christ himself. In Revelation there are certain things that John sees that he is not to reveal - they remain mysteries for now. I think Paul's statement in 1 Cor 13:9-10 puts it succinctly: "For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." Dispensationalists I understand argue that this fulness was the scriptures being completed, but I don't think that is what is being discussed here - more likely to be the new heavens and new earth.

    Anyway, my point in all this is that God in his wisdom choses to hide some things for the time being - as a way of training us to walk in relational knowledge (aka faith) and also from those who do not have the right attitudes: Matt:11:25 “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants." I have observed that knowledge starts in the heart and imagination and then later works its way into the cognitive arena - scientists actually do this - Einstein explained this well when he imagined he was a particle of light. God doesn't mind cognitive understanding but he prefers faith (like Jesus statement to Thomas - "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

    There will be times in life when we just don't (and probably can't) understand what is going on. Job is the great example of this. I have a saying that I tell myself - "God is the big person looking out for me even when I don't understand". Sylvia says sometimes jokingly "Well God I'm a bit busy today to look after the world today so I guess you'll just have to do it for me".

    I know I've got a bit away from what you were saying, but its a fun subject to think about. Bottom line for me is that even cognitive knowledge is discovered relationally. God deliberately allows mystery as a bit of a testing device so we learn to walk by faith/relationship.

  8. Yeah I like what you say about God choosing to have some mysteries and 'partial' sight now. I don't pit faith and 'cognitive' knowledge (doctrine) against each other. Its faith pitted against FULL knowledge (which is an entwined network of emotional, relational, cognitive, existential etc knowledge). This means mystery is not so much about God having specific doctrines that we can't know till He reveals them - its about God having elements of Himself that are hidden in from FULL knowledge in some way, including in the relational aspects sometimes. He deliberately allows a mix of 'error' (in all forms of knowledge, not just doctrine) and uncertainty because what matters in this life is mainly FAITH, wrought by a common spirit. This is because the attitudes of faith demonstrate the supreme power and worth of the limited knowledge (not just doctrine) we DO have, by persisting even in the gaps (again, not just doctrinal gaps). The spirit gives and moulds for each of us whatever pillars of knowledge (not just doctrine) we need, for faith to then fill the gaps of our changing life (this may happen through doctrinal discussions like on this site, hence the purpose!).

    This relates to what I mean when I talk of unity being based on spirit rather than doctrine. Faith is the main point of this life, which is based on doctrine (in a limited sense) and other forms of knowledge. But what is certain and fixed and important is faith, a common attribute with all believers, rather than doctrine. And the doctrine can be hugely variable in different areas with different amounts of error, depending on what each individual requires for common spirit-wrought faith. We cannot use doctrine as a reflection of unity, or holiness, or closeness to Christ, or salvation, etc. Only FAITH meets this criteria. So how do we define faith, that we may define and work toward true unity? I believe faith includes a desire for full knowledge of Christ (thus including love and worship and a heavenly-focus), and a set of attitudes (trust, humility, confession, repentance) that function in the face of everything that results from imperfect 'knowledge' - uncertainty and suffering and sin, and error in doctrine! So faith also contains all the attitudes needed for real and sweet unity despite doctrinal differences.

    But everything changes in the New Heaven and Earth - where full revelation and full knowledge (again, not just cognitive) are things the apostles looked forward to with excitement. Faith disappears in glorification - the attitudes that make it up continue and mature, but no longer have to persist in the face of imperfect knowledge, or 'challenges to our faith'.

  9. Yes well put. Also have you noticed that Ephesians 4 says we are to "maintain" the unity of the Spirit (v3) - something that we have because we are born of the Spirit - we are family by new birth and as children we are often lacking in understanding but we do know on a deep level (unless we are in a dysfunctional family) that we belong - the Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God. Then a couple of verses later in Ephesians it says "until we attain to the unity of the faith" (v13). We are in relational unity and called to love one another because we are family - but in our immaturity we are unlikely to agree on everything but this is what we are striving to attain to, while maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. Shalom :)

  10. Hi Clive,
    After reading your write up and Josh's responses, I don't really have much to add. I really liked your write up on many levels.
    I appreciated its emphasis on a collective group mentality rather than just an individual one, and also the emphasis on a God centred plan instead of a man centred plan. It was also interesting and thought provoking how you placed the different theological perspectives within their context.

    However I sense that this write up has been written in a context of post-modernistic thought and reflects that mindset lol. Although subjectivity and relationship viewed as a conceptual way of looking at the world has its value, I feel it fails to answer sufficiently the deep questions raised as an objective reality.

    So my two cents would be to remind us that although this perspective is useful, it potentially has the tendency to side-swipe important questions (Such as Arminianism vs Calvinism) raised by genuine people who seek answers on particular concepts.


  11. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for your kind words :). I would agree that I am taking this from a more post-modern than modernistic way of approach - guilty as charged! Why I have done this is because after hundreds of years of trying to reconcile these things using the tools of modernity I don't think we're getting any closer, simply because the tools are inadequate. We are inside a system that we are trying to explain as if we were objective outside observers - it's just not possible. We aren't objective, we aren't detached and our observations effect the data so we can never do what science would like to think we can do - explain all mysteries. We can and should do science and analysis and seek truth - I would suspect as humans there is something very wrong with us if we don't - its built in - but we need to recognise the limitation of what we can "prove" using those methods.

    My concern with much of the argument between the "new atheists" and Christians, or indeed between Calvinists and Arminians, is simply playing by the rules of modernity that cannot by definition lead to answers. Enlightenment thinking has set the agenda and we fall right into playing by those rules to our detriment. So rather than call the approach that I have picked up post-modern I would say rather look at it as holistic biblical thinking. I have struggled massively with allowing myself to accept this change in perspective but I honestly believe that it is what the church needs to rediscover and shake off the Enlightenment way of thinking that we have grown up in and actually have something of impact to say to the world.

  12. Though, just because the rules of modernity cannot lead to answers does not mean we give up seeking those answers. I mean, it was modernity that lead to me concluding that there was a God as opposed to their not being a God. I didn't resolve myself to "I don't know" and float around in a rudderless misconception of reality (I am not saying you do this). I don't think that we can be sure of truths, however it does not mean that we stop searching for the clearest explanation of reality. That is what I find valuable about some of Peter Rollin's points is that the search itself is valuable. But I would add that the search has a purpose beyond mere "perpetual searching", which gives us the hope of going somewhere.

    It is so funny at the moment for me. Here I am using modernistic arguments to discuss with post-modernistic thinking and yet currently over at an atheist site where I have spent a bit of time, I have been using post-modern arguments, trying to tame their modernism lol. (
    They tend to be more hard core modernists to the point that they really (I believe) deceive themselves into thinking they are on the neutral ground and that they simply follow evidence instead of having subjective beliefs.

    NEway, cheers.

  13. Yeah, I still think this perspective isn't complete. You seem to think the problem of traditional 'modernistic' Arminianist / Calvinist positions is they are using inadequate tools (modernism) to perform a task which is, at best, of secondary importance (i.e. reconcile some doctrinal clashes or 'mysteries'). Your solution is NOT to help perform the task, and NOT to offer any hope of performing it better using different tools. It is to point towards a task which is of greater importance.

    First, I disagree slightly that the modernistic task is of 'secondary importance'. You need to follow the Scriptural example here. Paul and Jesus both 'redirected' questions to ones that were more important, and then set about answering this new more important question (sometimes without explicitly stating what they were doing, which can be confusing...). But they did this for specific reasons which identify what they considered 'primary' issues. And preserving doctrinal 'mystery' or avoiding reductionism in doctrine certainly wasn't one of these primary issues. In fact, at one point Paul strongly advocates individualistic determinism (something you seem to have relegated to group of secondary mystery-breaking detail-focussed modernistic doctrines) as a means of re-directing the question! And these 'secondary' questions are usually answered in other portions of Scripture (something you do not attempt). The primary issues that prompted 'redirecting the question' for Paul and Jesus seem to be bad attitudes, or an understanding of what the individual REALLY needed for faith. If this is all you are doing that's commendable, but I would contest that you do not adequately address the bad attitudes often associated with modernism, you wrongly assume that modernism implies these bad attitudes exist, and you ignore the fact that there are a great many people with pure motives and strong faith who ask genuine questions about individual election (and already agree with corporate election). They deserve addressing instead of being side-swiped as 'secondary'.

    Secondly, I contest that modernism has a place as a useful tool in the task of mining Scripture to answer (or attempt to answer) these cognitive 'mysteries', when the motives are pure. The prevalence of disagreement in Chritendom over a particular issue should not imply that God intends it to be a mystery - what if it were simply due to a prevalence of sinful attitudes or bias? Also, even if we don't ever fully unlock a true mystery, some progress in cognitive knowledge can be made. Your view does not offer alternative tools or even the hope of ever fulfilling this task, instead pointing to a more important task (as discussed). But this task of pursuing cognitive knowledge (as part of full holistic knowledge) is encouraged in Scripture DESPITE the requirement for faith in the gaps (and these are not just cognitive gaps). ANY progress in cognitive knowledge which God uses to strengthen faith, is of great benefit! As I see it, the true weakness of modernism that needs combating is a reliance on cognitive knowledge to the detriment of other things (i.e. stronger faith, or other kinds of knowledge). But you can have a Biblical holistic view and still ask and answer questions about individual election - but your attitudes will include faith and humility and unity in the midst of the gaps we and others have.

  14. Hi Daniel,
    I like what you say: "They tend to be more hard core modernists to the point that they really (I believe) deceive themselves into thinking they are on the neutral ground and that they simply follow evidence instead of having subjective beliefs."
    I think that is exactly what is going on with the new atheist movement - they are stuck in one way of knowing that they assume unquestioningly is the only way of knowing. I think that is why I am passionately trying to help believers see that if they play by those rules they will not only likely look stupid, they are also ruling out the biblical way of knowing.

    Josh, thanks for your comments. I am trying to help perform the task of reconciling opposing viewpoints - but just in another way - by trying to propose that there are more other ways of knowing - ways that have been obvious in other ways at other times and in other cultures. I am trying, as you say Jesus and Paul did, to redirect the question - but not because I am assuming bad attitudes. I actually don't think that they always did this because they assumed bad attitudes either - they were simply trying to trip people out of a thinking "groove" into looking at the world in different way - a paradigm shift. Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4 , or with Nicodemas in John 3 for instance.

    Your use of the word "mining" with scripture is telling of a certain way of approaching scripture that I think is common and I would suggest is unhelpful. As I have pointed out I think a number of times cognitive, evaluative, even systematic approaches to studying scripture are vastly helpful as they provide the tools - just as an artist studies how to mix and apply paint and how to create shadows etc, or a musician must learn scales and technique - but that in itself doesn't produce art - art comes from the heart as I believe true faith must (as I'm sure you would agree). I object to the word "mining" as it assumes an industrial metaphor - but that is a whole other story that I intend to white about in much more detail at another time.

    I came across the work of Derek Flood recently - well worth a read as I think you would both like a lot of his stuff. I like this quote as I think it puts well what I've been trying to say:
    "Gustaf Aulen, the author of the classic work Christus Victor, writes, “There lies behind this criticism a particular view of theology: an implied demand that the Christian faith must be clearly expressed in the form of rational doctrine.” Now, there is nothing wrong with rational thinking. We are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. But if we think we can express the full depths of the human condition solely though rational thinking, let alone fathom the depths of God's saving work through our tiny little theorems, we are seriously kidding ourselves. When we strip the human experience of the language of passion, of love, then we are left with a cold, soulless theology that does not express or address who we are as whole people. This is not a matter of emotions, but of a language that speaks to the heart, that transcends the rational mind's ability to categorize life into neat little compartments and systems. Love cannot be dissected into a formula without trivializing it. It can only be articulated in the language of the poet, the lover. The heights of theology are not found in a rational system, but in the language of song crying from the depths of a heart —deep calling to deep.This heart-song was found in the early Christian church's understanding of the cross as the drama of a loving God's search for man, a view known as “Christus Victor.”" From

  15. As I pointed out in my article above, and as Flood articulates in his paper, I wonder if a lot of the problems we have with trying to reconcile opposing viewpoints is in the assumption in much theology of the law-court model of redemption, rather than in the more Jewish model of God redeeming us in Christ as he did with Israel in Egypt - as those who were held captive not just by sin but by a world system way beyond our power to deliver ourselves from, and a ruler (satan/pharaoh) who has a legal right to keep these people in captivity, but from who God demands release. The third cup of the passover (as identified in Luke 22:20) - which is the one Jesus uses to signify the new covenant in his blood, was traditionally linked with the third statement of the four parts of Exodus 6:6-7 "I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments." This was the picture that was in the mind of Jesus when he was speaking of the new covenant - God moving in power to wrench his people out of the grasp of their oppressors. Does this fit a Calvinist or Arminian perspective? I conclude that there are very strong arguments for both - which is why I think neither alone can answer the whole picture of God's redemption. As Flood says: "The heights of theology are ... in the language of song crying from the depths of a heart —deep calling to deep."

  16. I agree with other types of 'knowing' are needed in combination with cognitive knowledge in a holistic sense, and support faith and the 'heart response' you talk about, to bridge the gaps or 'mysteries' that God allows. I think that cognitive knowledge can be (and is) a part of this, including a reconciled view of Arminianism and Calvinism.

    I agree that re-directing the question is useful to focus on something more important, such as bad attitudes, OR (as I also mentioned) if something else is actually needed for faith (and not the cognitive knowledge the individual THINKS they need). As you say this often includes alternative forms of knowledge, but often it is another type of cognitive knowledge. Also, as you know, even when redirected, the questions are usually answered cognitively elsewhere in Scripture. What I'm trying to say is that 'redirecting the question' is not about a particular approach to Scripture, or about consistently jarring people out a groove as a blanket rule, merely for the sake of it. It was about what an individual needed at a particular point in time - either to change attitudes, or provide exactly what is needed for an individual to grow in faith. It usually challenges the person's assumptions, but easily involves cognitive knowledge.

    Which is why I said that mining Scripture is useful sometimes. The term 'mining' has deliberate industrial connotations which emphasise exactly what I intended - We are working hard with the materials God has given us to reach a valuable (but sometimes elusive) goal. As you said such methods are tools for art, and certainly do not substitute or define the whole goal of holistic knowledge or faith. I'd prefer an analogy that puts all the components of holistic knowledge and faith (the art you refer to, the Love and 'deep calling to deep' that Floor refers to) on a level playing field, rather than pitting cognitive knowledge ALWAYS against other forms of knowledge. As I said, sometimes a piece of cognitive knowledge is what is required for such faith.

    Your article, as excellent as it is in pointing out God's main points regarding election, does not actually address the conflict between two world views, which centres on determinism and individual election. As I can understand it, what you are ultimately saying is that God hasn't told us everything 'cognitive' there is to 'know' about determinism / free will, but that He does offer other forms of knowledge surrounding this. I think it's great that your approach encourages trust and humility in the gaps, but I think that God HAS provided the possibility of cognitive reconciliation, even if it is just to a limited degree, although I have yet to hear strong arguments for popular Arminianism or Calvinism which conflict with the view I hold (or multiple similar views that exist). I think sometimes this particular cognitive knowledge IS what is needed for the 'art' of holistic knowledge and faith.