The Real Difference On Election

I was thinking recently about the doctrine of election, and I asked myself what really constitutes the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism on this doctrine? Does it really consist in Calvinism’s fixed number of elect, and Arminianism’s unfixed number? This cannot be, logically speaking. Arminianism must believe in a fixed number of saved people. How else can they posit that God only elected those He foresaw would have faith? Would they really want to say that God foresaw incorrectly or could foresee incorrectly, and that some of those God thought would come to faith did not, in fact, come to faith? Of course, open theists would hold this position, but not your average Arminian.

I had been used to attacking the problem from a different angle. I had seen Reformed authors use this argument: if God foresaw who would come to faith, then isn’t a given person’s final destiny somehow fixed, and if so, then by whom or what?

Now, however, I see the issue a bit differently. If God can actually foresee who will be saved, then even in the Arminian position, the number of the saved is fixed, ultimately speaking, even if people can lose their salvation in the Arminian system. The Arminian cannot say that God would be mistaken in His foreknowledge, unless they are willing to go whole hog into the open theist position. So, if the number of saved people is fixed, then that cannot be the ultimate point of difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. The point of difference must lie elsewhere.

The previous paragraph makes it plain that Arminians also believe in limited atonement. They also believe that Christ’s death will not save all people from condemnation. Of course, their version of it is still different from the Reformed view (they believe, typically, that Christ’s death doesn’t actually save anyone, just makes salvation possible, and they also believe that this limited efficacy is applicable to everyone. What they go on to believe implicitly, it seems in most cases, is that salvation only does ever come to some, and not to others, so even in whatever saving efficacy they hold Christ’s death to have, it is still limited).

When we consider the five points of Calvinism, it becomes clear that unconditional election is the ultimate point of difference. To put it in a very vernacular way, does God love me because He loves me, or does He love me because I am so lovable? Is the cause of salvation to be found in us or in God? Arminians believe that the ultimate tipping point is our faith, especially because they believe God’s grace is resistible. And yet, as many Reformed have pointed out, they are (happily!) inconsistent on this point, since they pray to God for salvation for themselves and for others. Why pray to God if we are the ones who ultimately determine our own destiny? What can God do about it? Arminians really are aware in their heart of hearts that salvation comes from the Lord.

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23 Comments

  1. roberty bob said,

    November 9, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Well, as matter of historical fact, it has been pointed out [listen to Stephen preaching in Acts 7] that certain people do resist the Holy Spirit. To do that is to resist saving grace, is it not?

    It would be better to have said that the elect, chosen by God for salvation, finally do surrender to the Lord and receive saving grace. For them, God’s grace proves to be irresistible. Those who persist in their rebellion against Christ resist saving grace to the very end. They do not repent of their sins, do not believe in the only Savior and Lord, and so they will not be saved.

  2. roberty bob said,

    November 9, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    As for faith being the tipping point, didn’t our Lord say that when a person believes Him he [the believer] passes from death to life? The newborn believer always looks back to the moment of his believing as the tipping point, right?

    That same believer may one day — soon, we might hope — realize that he was chosen by God, who arranged for him to hear the Gospel which is powerful unto salvation. Evidently God, by His Spirit, creates all the conditions [new heart, etc.] in which faith is enabled.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Bob, no one can resist saving grace. Common grace is completely resistible. Do you really think that anyone can hold up his little finger to God and say to Him, “Thus far you can go, and no further”? What the Reformed mean by irresistible grace is that NO ONE can resist God if God decides that He will save that person. Any kind of grace that is not saving grace is definitely resistible.

    The point you miss here about faith is that regeneration, being born again, is the tipping point, as John 3 so clearly states. Faith is our reaction to regeneration. Faith is so closely tied to regeneration in time, and is related by way of being caused by regeneration, that sometimes Scripture speaks of faith saving a person.

    Of course, understanding the nature of faith is important: we are not saved by a thing inside ourselves. Faith is only saving because of faith’s object (Jesus Christ), not because we somehow empower ourselves.

  4. roberty bob said,

    November 10, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Dear GB,

    You are right. The Lord saves each person that He [pre] determines to save through the appointed means of His saving grace. All who have been ordained for eternal life come to faith at some point. For all such persons it can honestly be said that God’s grace is irresistible. Of course the new birth [new heart, whatever] precedes faith, so you can call that the tipping point because one must be born anew to enter the Kingdom. But from the standpoint of human responsibility, the Lord commands us to repent, believe, and confess so that we might be saved. From our side, that is the tipping point. Yes, Jesus speaks of faith saving a person

    “Faith is our reaction to regeneration.” — GB
    Well, at some point faith comes to expression from a regenerate heart, as it must. However, I would not call faith “a reaction to regeneration.”

    Still, I maintain that the grace offered to sinners through the preaching of the Gospel is “saving” grace, or grace that can and will save them should they repent. Those who resist the Holy Spirit do resist a grace that would save them were they to repent and believe.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Bob, your position requires that there is no real difference between the grace that people receive who are eventually saved versus those who do not repent. According to your position, it is just offered out there, and some people will receive it and others won’t. If that is true, then the real reason why some believe and others don’t resides in the person. We then regenerate ourselves. This makes no sense, since dead people cannot make themselves alive. The grace HAS to be different, or we make nonsense of the Scriptures.

  6. roberty bob said,

    November 10, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Looking at Acts 13 where Paul & Barnabas are preaching to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles. The Jews opposed the Gospel message, so P & B said to them,”It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you; since you thrust it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”

    So, as you see, eternal life was offered to the Jews in the congregation. In opposing Gospel messengers P & B, they resisted / rejected the offer of eternal life. They did not receive the grace offered to them, which would have saved them unto eternal life; they resisted that grace. That same grace — same offer of eternal life was made to the Gentiles in the congregation, and they were glad and glorified the word of God, and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

    The offer of eternal life was the same offer made to all; one side resisted and rejected the offer. They had not been ordained for eternal life. But what they resisted and rejected was the same as what those ordained embraced and accepted.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Bob, you are missing the point here. Saving grace is regenerating grace. Period. The offer of the gospel is not saving grace, because it does not in and of itself save anyone. If people accept the gospel in faith, that is because they have had regenerating grace first. Regenerating grace was not somehow presented to each person, and the unbelieving people refused to be regenerated. The unbelievers refused the gospel because they were unregenerate. Are you going to suggest that regenerating grace is offered indiscriminately, such that people can accept or reject it? If so, then how would explain conversions like C.S. Lewis, who did all he could to resist such grace, all to no avail? How will you explain Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven”? How will you explain Paul’s conversion?

  8. roberty bob said,

    November 10, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    GB, without question God will save everyone that He has ordained for eternal life; all who are ordained for eternal life will [in time] repent, believe, and confess that the crucified and risen Jesus is LORD. It is undoubtedly true that only those who have been born anew have within them the grace to respond to the Gospel call in faith.

    I am not going to suggest that regenerating grace is offered to all indiscriminately. God discriminates as He pleases; and He is pleased to resist the proud and give grace to the humble; and sometimes it pleases Him to subdue and win over His most entrenched enemies by the power of the Gospel.

    What I want to know is this: When Stephen rebuked the Christ-denying Jews for resisting the Holy Spirit, did he mean by this that the Jews were resisting grace? I think that you, GB, are saying that these Jewish Christ-deniers resisted common grace, but that the Gentiles who heard the same Gospel preached unto them gladly received the offer of eternal life because they could not resist the saving grace that God had put within to regenerate them into new creatures in Christ.

  9. roberty bob said,

    November 10, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    GB, about your responses in #3 . . . it seems to me that you are saying that the moment at which you were saved occurred when you were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and that this “saving moment” might have taken place before the moment in which you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is as if God’s saving grace is infused in your heart, and that this infusion will result in you putting your faith in Jesus Christ. You say that sometimes Scripture speaks of faith saving a person. Well, yes! In fact, nearly always Scripture speaks of faith saving a person. In fact, we have no knowledge of anyone getting saved or being saved apart from some kind of faith-response! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved! For by grace you have been saved through faith. Right, Jesus is the only One who saves us from our sins; but it is faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior that assures us who believe that we have been born anew.

  10. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 11, 2017 at 11:42 am

    The root of the differences between the two groups is the Arminians’ conviction that God loves all men and that He could not<I/–consistent with that love–arbitrarily refuse to save any (or, most, as is the case). If any man perishes, it must be his choice alone that decides the matter; for if God has “the master choice” (as Tozer described it), He would have to save to be a God of love. This conviction about the heart of God will bear no compromise, even if it results in contradictions in some areas.

    As for foreknowledge, it does not require necessity, and is consistent with freedom of will.

    As for atonement, the number who are ultimately saved does not speak to its efficacy, since election springs from the decree and not from the atonement (as Dabney said).

    I’m a centrist, holding to both unconditional election and the free will of men to decide. God is a God of love, but His just nature requires consequences for the race as a race for the sin of the race in Adam. One of these consequences is that only a remnant will be saved. The necessities of justice do not diminish God’s love.

  11. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 11, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Regeneration is not the primary issue. The real question is this: How can a loving God determine to save so few? Until that is resolved, you will go in circles discussing anything else.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    November 11, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Ken, to answer 11 (I’ll answer 10 later), I don’t personally believe that God saves “so few.” The number of the saved in Revelation is more than can be counted. A vast multitude are the saved.

    I don’t agree with the question, however. The real question is this: why would God save anyone? Consider that humanity had everything going for them in the Garden of Eden. They rebelled and sought to take God off His throne and put themselves there instead. God would have been perfectly just to wipe out all humanity. It bespeaks God’s incredible grace that He saved anyone. God would have been perfectly just to wipe out all humanity, as He nearly did at the Flood. The question you raise implies that God somehow owes humanity something. I reject that notion utterly.

  13. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 11, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Lane, I agree that God has saved multitudes. But as Jesus Himself said, “…few there be that find it.” The point is that the number saved will be fewer than all. But, wasn’t your article here seeking the real difference separating A & C thinking? That is where the only hope for productive discussion can be found. Error, like poison ivy, must be pulled out at the root. To get there, you must be willing to go beyond just stating your own position, such as saying that God did not have to save any, etc. The Arminian would agree that God’s justice does not require Him to save any; but what about God’s love? You cannot productively answer a question about God’s love by declaring His justice and grace.

    If God had chosen to save none, that would be justice. But since God does through grace & the cross have the power to save, consistent with justice, then how could He love all and not save all? Arminians have fallen into the error of thinking that God does not determine the destinies of men, because they cannot understand how God could love all and not determine a heaven-bound destiny for all. But Calvinists tend to fall into the opposite error of thinking that God did not save all because He did not love all the same. As John Murray says it, “The love of God from which the atonement springs is not a distinctionless love; it is a love that elects and predestinates;” (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied). To this, the Arminian will not (and should not) agree.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    November 11, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated. Seems pretty clear that God makes some vessels for common use and some for sanctified use. Your position directly contradicts Romans 9, among many other passages.

  15. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 12, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Easier said than established. The love/hate contrast between Jacob and Esau is a Hebrew way of emphasizing a difference, like when Jesus said that we should hate our family members if we are to follow Him. Did He not want us to love our father, mother, siblings, etc.? Of course, we are to love them–and even love them with God’s love; but we are to love God in a way that is above and beyond our love for them.

    God does make vessels of wrath. But the question remains, does He make them vessels of wrath because He loves them less than the others, or is election logically prior to the difference in His love for the different kinds of vessels? Does He elect them because He loves them more, or does He love them more because He has elected them? I say the latter. It is because He elected us that He is able to pour out His love on us in ways that He cannot do for the nonelect.

    If Adam & Eve had not sinned, but had passed the test, then all mankind would have been born “confirmed in righteousness forever” (as Hodge puts it, I think). Sin and death would not have entered into the world. All would have been elect, since none would have perished. In our world as it is, election is really deselection. It is God choosing to save a subset instead of the whole. As such, it is sin and not love out of which this deselection springs. All men were made from the same Adamic lump, so to speak. None are special. God could have chosen any subset of mankind to save with equal love and equal loss. But the one perfect plan that God did choose, with its particular subset of men to be saved, was the one that will bring Him the greatest glory. With that plan in view, and with His elect chosen, He is then able to pour out His love fully on those chosen ones. Therefore, Esau He has loved and Jacob He has hated.

  16. greenbaggins said,

    November 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Ken, so let me get this straight. You say in comment 13: “If God had chosen to save none, that would be justice. But since God does through grace & the cross have the power to save, consistent with justice, then how could He love all and not save all? Arminians have fallen into the error of thinking that God does not determine the destinies of men, because they cannot understand how God could love all and not determine a heaven-bound destiny for all. But Calvinists tend to fall into the opposite error of thinking that God did not save all because He did not love all the same.” This seems to indicate that you believe Calvinists are in error in claiming that God does not love all the same. I presume, at this point, that are intending to say that God loves all the people the same.

    Then you say in comment 15: “But the question remains, does He make them vessels of wrath because He loves them less than the others, or is election logically prior to the difference in His love for the different kinds of vessels? Does He elect them because He loves them more, or does He love them more because He has elected them? I say the latter. It is because He elected us that He is able to pour out His love on us in ways that He cannot do for the nonelect.” Here you seem to be saying that God does not love all the same. I am currently at a loss to know how your position is coherent.

    Notice, by the way, that I did not exegete Romans 9 beyond simply saying that I didn’t think Romans 9 was compatible with your position. When you said that there is no difference in God’s love for people, I challenged you with Romans 9, upon which you start saying that there is a difference in God’s love for people. How is this consistent?

    Here is the truth of the matter: if God loved all people the same, then all would be saved (especially given God’s omnipotence). All people are not saved, therefore God does not love all people the same. Standard modus tollens argument. God created some people for one purpose (to show forth His glorious justice) and other people for another purpose (to show forth His glorious grace). Why is this concept so difficult? Does the pot have the right to question the potter and say, “Why did you make me this way?” Who are we to ask God such a question!

  17. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    “I’m a centrist, holding to both unconditional election and the free will of men to decide.”

    Ken,

    Unconditional Election (UE) entails that “God gives faith… to each individual whom He selected.” Furthermore, faith, according to UE, is the “result…of God’s choice,” as opposed to resulting from “man’s free will.” Faith being the *result* of UE entails that *only* those who are unconditionally elected will and *can* exercise faith. This is further corroborated and underscored in the complimentary doctrines of TD and IG.

    One might disagree with Dort, but it’s not available to any of us to find harmony with UE and “free will,” lest we tamper with the very definitions that have been handed to us.

  18. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 13, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Ron,

    I don’t think definitions are the problem. Presuppositions are the problem. Why do you assume that if faith results from God’s choice that it does not also, in a subordinate way, result from man’s free will? You say that only those who are unconditionally elected will and can exercise faith; but I say that the “can” refers to a figurative inability that consists only in an unwillingness. I explain this in more detail here.

  19. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 13, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Lane,

    What I was trying to get at is the cause or reason for limiting the elect to a subset. While I do agree that God loves the elect with a love that far exceeds His love for the nonelect, I disagree that such a difference in love preceded His choice of the elect. In other words, I disagree that a lack of (or difference in) God’s love was the reason that He limited election to a subset. Biblically, it should be the most obvious thing that sin is responsible for so much of mankind perishing–not just on an individual level, but the race as a whole. If Adam had not sinned, all men would be in a blessed, righteous relationship with God. You did not address this point. It is the sin of the race in Adam that caused the race to fall, and put all men in need of a Savior. Thus, it is Adam’s sin that resulted in limiting election to a subset, and not some limitation in God’s love.

    You said,

    Here is the truth of the matter: if God loved all people the same, then all would be saved (especially given God’s omnipotence). All people are not saved, therefore God does not love all people the same. Standard modus tollens argument.

    Can you know enough of God’s mind and nature to be confident that love is the only factor in His decision—that there are no other exigencies or concerns involved? Consider how the same kind of argument fails when applied to sin: if God hates all sin, then no sin would be permitted (especially given God’s omnipotence). Sin is permitted, therefore, God does not hate all sin. Although we agree that sin is abhorrent to God’s nature, He still permits it for the greater purposes of His plan (decree). I submit that the same thing applies to the reason so many perish. God loves all men such that it is abhorrent to His nature that any perish; but He does permit it for the greater purposes of His plan. Your modus tollens argument assumes a premise that cannot be established.

  20. Ron said,

    November 13, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    “You say that only those who are unconditionally elected will and can exercise faith; but I say that the “can” refers to a figurative inability that consists only in reforan unwillingness.”

    I’m afraid not, Ken. The doctrine of U is a component of a response to the five points of Arminianism. The inability in view is more than unwillingness (as defined by the doctrine). It’s a result of being spiritually *dead* (T), hence the need for irresistible grace to overcome not just man’s “unwillingness” but his *moral inability* to repent and believe. U is a necessary condition for the irresistible grace needed to overcome man’s inability. It’s a package doctrine, tightly sealed.

    NOTE: The doctrine of T speaks of *nature* determinism, not act determinism. Act determinism is not in view. Accordingly, even allowing for LFW, the act of faith wouldn’t even be “contingently” possible because such an act would not be a species of the fallen nature as depicted by T. IOW, even granting the philosophical surd of LFW, the 5 points don’t afford room for faith in Christ outside being elect. Reason being, T refers to *moral* inability, not metaphysical inability.

    To put it in simplest terms, if LFW were true, man could choose with equal ease between walking and crawling to work. He’d be metaphysically free to do either. His choice would be purely contingent. Notwithstanding, he wouldn’t be able to choose to flap his wings and fly to the office. His radical libertarian freedom wouldn’t afford him a choice contrary to his natural ability. So it is with the Calvinism. Even granting the notion of LFW, the doctrine makes no room for acting contrary to the fallen nature. Allowing for LFW, man would only be able to choose alternatives that are consistent with his nature.

  21. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 15, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Ron,

    I have no commitment to the 5 points. I hold to unconditional election, but only as I understand it from Scripture. It is Biblical truth that I argue for, and if that is inconsistent with any aspect of the 5 points, then defend them if you will. But merely telling me how I’m contradicting them is no defense. You say that it’s a tightly sealed package deal; but from what I’ve studied of them, the system is too heavily reliant on human reasoning to provide that tight seal.

    For example, Calvinists understand the Biblical description of “dead in trespasses and sins” and the idea of sinners being spiritually dead to be a analogous to physical death in the sense that a corpse cannot respond. But a far better understanding is that spiritual death is a literal condition—that just as a person’s spirit is separated from his body at physical death, his spirit is separated from God in spiritual death. Rather than a corpse-like inability to respond, it is an alienation-based tendency toward sin that makes a man averse toward God. Calvinism heads toward the right direction, but often takes things too far (and the farther past the truth they go, the “tighter” the seal).

    Men, like God, do not act contrary to their nature—but only because neither wants to.

  22. Ron said,

    November 16, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Therein lies the confusion. Unconditional Election is a doctrine already defined for us, not in Scripture but subordinate Reformed standards. You may not define it according to your own private interpretation of Scripture, especially if you’re interested in referring to to the term with the expectation of others understanding you. It would be like someone saying they affirm the doctrine of the Trinity while believing in the spiration of the Son or modalism.

  23. Ron said,

    November 16, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Hi Ken,

    Just in case you actually believe you’re operating under the standard Reformed definition of Unconditional Election, I’d like to make a few brief remarks in the form of a proof. I’ve taken the liberty of interacting with something from your blog.

    There are many who perish for lack of a little more influence—such as one more witness or presentation of the gospel that would have been enough to bring them to their knees in repentant faith. There will be many who could have been reached and might have been converted but were not, because the laborers were few.

    Keep in mind, the if-then proposition in #4 deals with necessary and sufficient conditions as states of affairs, not causality. Shouldn’t present a problem for you.

    Your position is that many people perish “because” the gospel wasn’t preached to them enough. A “little more influence” would have done the trick. (I’ll be referring only to those subjects below. The ones who’d be saved had they been increasingly influenced.)

    1. With more influence, they would have been saved.

    2. Had they been saved, unconditional election would have necessarily preceded their salvation. (Decree precedes providence)

    3. If there was a little more influence, they would have been unconditionally elected (prior to that influence). (From 1 and 2)

    4. There was not more influence upon some because others “freely chose” not to preach. (From your view of free will)

    5. These were not “unconditionally elected” because others freely chose “otherwise” than to preach. (From 3 and 4)

    6. Choosing to do otherwise is an act of man.

    7. Unconditional Election is not conditioned upon any act foreseen in man. (From definition of Unconditional Election

    8. True definition of Unconditional Election contradicts implied definition in #5 (From 5-7)

    9 #5 is the logical implication of your position on election. (Standard logic)

    10. Your view of election contradicts Unconditional Election. (7-9)

    Ken, the attempt to take the good of Calvinism and somehow merge it with Arminianism always proves to be a failed endeavor. You might was well just through yourself into Molinism. That seems to be where you’re heading.

    As with the other thread, please have the final word here too.


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