TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

15 December 2015

Your salvation was no accident.

You didn’t just wander into Christianity. You were part of the plan.

Elect /ə'lɛkt/ v. Choose for a purpose or position.
2. n. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Election /ə'lɛk.ʃən/ n.]

Some of us realize we didn’t choose to become Christian; it’s more like God chose us. I myself was obviously set up. Christian mother, Christian upbringing, lots of relationships with influential Christians, lots of opportunities to have direct experiences of God. I’d have to be in serious denial, or really angry with God, if I didn’t become Christian.

Other Christians can’t see how God’s been nudging them (sometimes outright pushing them) all their lives in his direction. They’re pretty sure if one little thing in the past had turned another way, they’d be something else. The universe is so random, who’s to say?

Well, God’s to say. He wants to save everybody. He wanted to save you. Despite the randomness of the universe, Ec 1.2 God arranged things so you’d be saved. He deliberately selected you. Or, as theologians like to put it, he elected you. I know; election means a very different thing in a democracy, but in Christianese it means God wanted you, so now he has you.

Ephesians 1.4-6 KWL
4 Namely how God chose us in Christ to be holy—
spotless before his presence—before the world’s foundation!
In love, 5 though Christ Jesus, God predestined us for adoption to himself—
according to the goodwill of his will,
6 in glorious praise of God’s grace, which he poured out on us in love.

Yeah, before creating the earth. That’s how far back he planned to have a relationship with us. It’s what he always wanted. It’s why he made us humans in the first place.

True, there are Christians who insist Paul’s passage is about Christians as a whole, not about you and me and particular Christians. ’Cause Paul used plural pronouns throughout this letter. So supposedly he chose the church—or chose the apostles, chose the Hebrews, chose the gentiles…

Most of the reason they argue this is because certain Christian interpreters go a little bonkers with the whole idea of election.

  • Some of us flinch: “I thought I chose to repent and follow Jesus. Now you’re telling me I was manipulated into it? What kind of sneaky, underhanded God are we talking about here?”
  • Some of us feel it’s a divine guarantee: “I’m elect! God chose me! And the Almighty gets what he wants, so I’m as good as saved! I can never, ever fall away from him! Not even if I tried the nastiest sins ever! (Hey, that means I could totally try the nastiest sins ever!…)” Yikes.
  • Some of us turn into the world’s biggest sci-fi time travel nerds. “Wait, God chose me before I chose him? How’s that work? Did he look into the future, see me choosing him, then choose me first? Or did he choose me, and in so doing kinda make everything so I can’t help but choose him? Do I even have free will at all?” And you thought the timelines in Back to the Future were tricky. Oy, the headaches.
  • Some start sorting humanity into classes: “I’m elect. God chose me to be saved. And you, and all the Christians. And since he chose us to be saved… that kinda means he chose everyone else to not be saved. So all the non-Christians are going to hell. How sad. Oh well; glad I’m not them.”
  • Some go into denial. “No, God doesn’t choose people like that. He offers salvation to everybody, and whether we take it is entirely up to us now. Election is a Calvinist idea, not a Christian one.”

Let’s sort out what election is and isn’t.

Predestination.

I don’t like to inflict a big pile of vocabulary words on people, but in this discussion I kinda have to. So here’s two.

Foreknow /fɔr'noʊ/ v. Have memory of future events.
[Foreknowledge /'fɔr.nɑl.ədʒ/ n.]
Predestine /pri'dɛs.tɪn/ vt. Determine an outcome or purpose, in advance.
[Predestination /pri.dɛs.tə'neɪ.ʃən/ n.]

I’ll try to stick to these, and use plain English for the rest.

Okay. God knows the future. I’ll explain how at another time; for now just take it as a given he knows the future. He foreknows, as we put it; he has foreknowledge. Just as we make plans and decisions based on our knowledge, God does the same based on his foreknowledge. Like answer your prayers before you ever pray them: Ever ask him for something, and your prayer got answered immediately, even though it should’ve taken a bunch of time to set up that answer? God foreknew what you’d ask, and fore-answered it, so to speak. Neat, huh?

Or elect people to be saved. God knew we’d exist in the future, chose to save us well in advance of our ever being born, and decided he’d adopt us as his kids. Ep 1.5 He predestined us to be his family. In most Christians’ experience, he doesn’t even bother to wait till we’ve made our decisions to follow him. He just treating us as if we’re already his kids, blessing us and correcting us, and guiding us to the point of salvation.

Wait, don’t we get any say in this?

Of course we do. This is a relationship, not an inventor programming his robots. God doesn’t adopt us unless we likewise believe in and accept him. Jn 1.12 But you gotta remember: He comes first in time. He’s already foreseen our relationship. He’s not gonna wait for us to come around before he starts interacting with us. He’ll hold off on some things, like putting his Holy Spirit in us. Love is patient, y’know. But he doesn’t wait on everything. (Also bear in mind: God foresees us in heaven, after we’ve been resurrected, after we’ve lived with him for several trillion years, saved and healed and perfect and in unity and in love with him. Yep. That’s why he never gives up on us: That’s who we are to him. We’re that way longer than we are this.)

Since God exists first, and since all the salvation and predestination and adoption stuff only happens because God makes it happen (kids don’t adopt their parents, y’know), it might feel like God’s the only one making choices here. He’s really not. Think of it like a baby crying ’cause its diaper is full. Baby can’t change its own diaper. Daddy can change it—and knew the baby was gonna cry any second now, and already has the diaper bag in hand. But he wasn’t gonna act till the baby cried. You can kinda guess who’s who in that parable.

Double predestination.

But there are Christians who tell a different parable—where Daddy changes the diaper whether the baby cries or not, ’cause he knows best. Okay, time for a new vocabulary word.

Monergism /'mɑn.ərg.ɪz.əm/ n. Determined by divine decree, with no cooperation from anyone else.
[Monergist /'mɑn.ərg.ɪst/ n.]

Calvinists are monergists, and you might find a few other Christians leaning in the monergist direction. ’Cause like I said, it sounds like God’s the only one making choices. Monergists conclude he totally is. It only looks like we repent and call out to God and choose to follow him and all that. We’re just acting that way ’cause God bent us that direction, ’cause he elected us. God’s almightiness and sovereignty determine all. Our actions, our choices, heck our relationships, make no difference. God does as he chooses. He’s our creator, and we’re like inanimate objects in comparison. Like a potter and pots. Ro 9.20-21

What about our relationship with God? Oh we have that. But it wasn’t started, and it’s not sustained, by any give-and-take between us and God. It’s all God. That’s the mon- part of monergism, shortened from mono-: Only one guy has any say in this relationship, and it surely isn’t us.

For monergists, foreknowledge and predestination are functionally the same thing: If God did one he automatically does the other. Ro 8.29 And he elects us (or doesn’t) based entirely on his secret will. Only he knows why he elects anybody. ’Cause it sure ain’t because we called out to him, or God foresaw we sought him. Monergists like to make that point crystal clear: This would suggest we had anything whatsoever to do with our own salvation. Perish that thought.

Nope, it’s all secret-will stuff. In fact certain monergists are fond of teaching there’s always a chance—a little tiny itty-bitty chance—God doesn’t want us like we want him. That God actually didn’t elect us. That really, we’re doing all this Christianity stuff for nothing. (But they sure hope not.)

Yeah, that’s messed up. But monergism won’t really let ’em teach otherwise. If it’s all God, not us, they feel they gotta remove us from the equation altogether. Or at least make us pure zeroes.

But if we take monergism to its logical conclusion, it means God didn’t just choose people for saving. He also chose people for damning. Say what now? Yeah; it’s called double predestination. ’Cause the destiny for everyone God didn’t choose… is hell. He didn’t make a third option!

Most monergists try like crazy to weasel out of double predestination: They claim God only predestines people for saving. Not damning. He does nothing for those folks. Nothing for ’em, nothing against ’em. He passes them by. Their own depravity sends ’em to hell. Not God.

All fine and dandy… till you realize monergists teach (and love to teach) that God has a plan for everything. Everything. No exception. Ecclesiastes is wrong; Ec 1.2 nothing is meaningless. Nothing happens outside God’s will. Not a bird falls to the ground without his say-so. Mt 10.29 If they were talking about any other subject, from bad luck to natural disasters and terrorism, they’d ordinarily teach, “Yes, God knew it’d happen that way. And in fact he meant it to happen that way. It’s all part of the plan. We may not understand it, but we just have to trust God.” That’s the monergist explanation for everything—from a stubbed toe, to some psycho shooting up a preschool. (They just try to avoid making it sound so heartless when they’re talking to victims’ families. Well, most of them try.)

That’s the basic problem with monergism: If God controls all, that includes evil. And it’s really hard to explain how a God, who needs so much human evil to be a vital part of his plan, isn’t deep down some evil monster. Monergists sure do try though; I gotta give them that.

Unconditional election?

Thanks to the monergists, other Christians get a little leery of this election and predestination talk. They assume, like the monergists do, that if God made any advance decisions to save us, he’s sucked away our free will. Not true. Because we have bible passages like this one—

John 3.36 KWL
“One who believes in the Son has life in the next age.
One who disobeys the Son won’t see life. God’s wrath stays on them.”

—and invitations throughout the bible for people to turn to God their Savior. It doesn’t matter whether God determines our salvation in the distant past or the present day: If he makes that determination without any interaction from us—if we’re already saved—why on earth does he tell us to turn to him to be saved?

Isaiah 45.22 KWL
“Turn to me and be rescued, all the ends of the earth!
I’m God. There’s no one else.”

Why does he command everyone to repent? Ac 17.30 Why does he invite us to come? Rv 22.17 Why does he give us commandments, and warn us of the consequences of disobedience? Why does he keep telling us to choose him, choose life, choose salvation, choose rightness? Why do the scriptures, why do Jesus’s direct teachings, consistently assume we have some sort of free will?

If the reality is we have no real say in the matter, that it’s all a façade meant to make our predetermined, fatalistic lives look like they have meaning, then it’s a lie just like the Matrix in those Matrix movies, and God’s a liar. So I don’t buy that. Monergists try to make it sound better than that, but they invariably stumble back into the façade idea, and I believe God has more integrity than that.

The fact is, God thought enough of self-determination to put that trait into humans. Yeah, we choose sin; yeah we’re horribly corrupt; but God shone enough of his grace upon us for us to see our corruption by it, and repent of it, and turn to him. And he accepts and saves everyone who calls out to him. Ac 2.21, Ro 10.13 Not just the elect.

Although you realize, since God knows the future, if we call out to him, he foreknew we were gonna do that. And he foreknew he’d accept and save everyone who called out to him. And if we’re accepted, if we’re saved, if we’re in his kingdom, you know what that makes us? Elect.

No, that doesn’t mean we elected ourselves. Or saved ourselves. Remember? Baby with poopy diaper? Can’t change itself? All righty then.