Election: Calvinism or Arminianism? Or a 3rd Option?

How we view God will be the deciding factor in how we view people.

The doctrine of election is a secondary issue, but the implications of how we incorporate this doctrine into our lives will be the fuel that launches us on mission with Jesus.

In this blog, I will present the classic Calvinist view of Election, the classic Arminian view, plus a third view. Please keep in mind that all three of these views are within the bounds of evangelical orthodoxy.

On a personal note, I’m grateful for the theologians and pastors that support the Calvinist viewpoint, the Arminian viewpoint as well as third viewpoint that I discuss here; I’ve learned from and ministered with many of them, and I consider it an honor to have done so.

At the end of the blog, I refer you to several books that go into greater detail.

CLASSIC CALVINISM: PREDETERMINISM IS IN SPITE OF GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE

In this view, which is also called “Reformed Theology,” God operates with such sovereignty that His choice of who the elect will be is made with no consideration of the choices of human beings. God sovereignly saves whomever He wishes to save. We all deserve hell because we are dead in our sin by nature, but in His mercy, God from all eternity decides to save some people (elect). He does this by giving some people the ability to have faith by regenerating them so they can believe. So, the elect are born again, and then they believe, rather than people believing, then being born again. 


This view also teaches that Jesus only died for the elect, not the non-elect. This is called “limited atonement” or “particular redemption.”

What about people in hell (Reprobation)?

As Reformed theologian, Dr. Wayne Grudem, says “Reprobation is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice” (Bible Doctrine, 291).

Problem:

Pastor Mark Driscoll and theologian Gerry Bershears make a great point when they say “if Calvinism is right and no payment has been made for the non-elect, then how can God genuinely love the world and desire salvation for all people?” (Doctrine, 270).

In classic Calvinism, God predetermines who the elect will be in spite of His foreknowledge.

CLASSIC ARMINIAN VIEW: PREDETERMINISM IS BASED ON GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE

In this view, God in His omniscience (all-knowing-ness) knows in advance what choices every human being will make; therefore, He knows who will accept or reject His offer of eternal life. In this view, because of God’s omniscience, He is sovereign over the universe. His sovereign control is based on His foreknowledge of how people will use their free will in response to His prevenient grace, which enables them to receive or reject His Eternal Son.

What about people in hell?

People in hell are there because they rejected God’s offer of eternal life through His eternal Son, Jesus.

Problem

If God’s choice to save is based on a freewill decision by those who choose to accept Jesus, then salvation is based not on divine-grace, but on human will. This makes God dependent on man. I believe this perspective contradicts the biblical narrative (John 1:13, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 1:-11).

In classic Arminianism, God makes His decision of who the elect will be, based on His foreknowledge.

THE 3rd OPTION: GOD’S PREDETERMINISM IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S FOREKNOWLEGE

I started my Christian journey as a classic Calvinist., I devoured Calvin’s Institutes, books by R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.    After a decade of prayer, study, and reflection, I hold to and teach a 3rd option. Since I don’t like to label myself, I don’t have a name for this third option. Some may call it “Modified Calvinism” or “Moderate Calvinism” since I also believe in eternal security.

Some theologians also call this view Congruism. Congruism contends that the Bible teaches that because God is sovereign, He unconditionally chooses the elect for salvation and that each individual person freely decides to reject or accept Jesus as Savior.

Just as Jesus is 100% God the Son and 100% human, Scripture presents God’s sovereignty and human freedom as twin truths in tension.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) expressed this glorious mystery when he said, “Take away free will and there will be nothing to save; take away grace and there will be no means left of salvation.”

This 3rd option, which I hold to and teach, is in alignment with the Church’s greatest theologian/philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the beloved and brilliant C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), and my mentor and friend Norman L. Geisler (1932-present).

According to this 3rd option, God’s election is neither based on His foreknowledge of man’s free agency (classic Arminianism), nor in spite of His foreknowledge of man’s free agency (classic Calvinism), but rather is in accordance with His foreknowledge of man’s free agency.

THE KEY

Now, I need you to follow along to grasp the beauty of Thomas Aquinas’ mind and his commitment to theology. Aquinas concluded that God’s sovereign, unconditional election of man and man’s freewill response to God are congruent because of two of God’s attributes, His simplicity and His timelessness.

Classical theism teaches that God is simple in the sense that His nature is undivided and without parts. In this view, time is a part of creation. Therefore, God, who is eternal and timeless, lives outside of time in the eternal now. Past, present, and future are equal before Him.

Therefore, there is “no chronological or logical priority of election and foreknowledge. All aspects of God’s eternal purpose are equally timeless. Both God’s foreknowledge and predetermination are one in God’s indivisible essence. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinated acts of God” (Geisler & Rhodes, Conviction Without Compromise, 252).  God’s acts outside of time, but His actions are in time.

Since humanity is hopelessly dead in sin and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores, by His Spirit’s power (John 16:8-11, John 12:30-32; Acts 17:26-27), the ability for all men to receive or reject His offer of salvation.

In the congruent view, God’s sovereign election and man’s response to God are simultaneous.  In the 3rd option, God is all-loving, sovereign, and man has free agency.

Therefore, God predetermines in accordance with His foreknowledge.

What about people in hell?
In this view, people in hell had to walk over Jesus’ dead body to enter its hideous gates because He reached out to them (1 John 2:2; John 16:7). They chose to reject a real offer for salvation.

Problem

I firmly believe that the 3rd option is the most faithful to the Biblical narrative; nevertheless, I must walk with a limp. Regardless of which one of these views we hold to, it’s still a mystery. And above all, Jesus is more concerned with us joining Him on mission; that’s why I’m writing this from my favorite coffee shop where God has sovereignly connected me with people who’ve come to faith over the years.

Church, I love you. Pastors, fellow believers, I’m for you. I hope this blog helps. If you’d like to read more, check out Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Dr. Gerry Bershears, Chosen But Free by Dr. Norm L. Geisler, and the chapter entitled “The Work of God: Salvation” by Dr. Kenneth Keathly in the book, A Theology for the Church, edited by Dr. Danny Aiken.

Marinate on that,

Pastor Derwin

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Derwin Gray
Derwin L. Gray is the founding and Lead Pastor of Transformation Church (www.tc521.org), a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission-shaped community in Indian Land, South Carolina, just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Transformation Church was recognized as one of the 15 fastest growing churches in America for 2010 by Outreach Magazine. Gray is the author of "Limitless Life: You Are More Than Your Past When God Holds Your Future" and is a highly sought-after communicator. Connect with Derwin on twitter @Derwinlgray.