January 15, 2021

The Doctrine of Election in Three Sentences

shutHey Michael,

Love your podcasts…and your take on Christianity in general…so, in 3 sentences or less, what is your take on the Doctrine of Election?

Can’t wait to read what you have to say.


Scripture teaches it in the context of God’s overall redemptive purposes and in the Christian doctrine of assurance.
When it is abused, it is almost always in the context of evangelism, ecclesiology or Christian experience.
It’s a doctrine that is expressed in revelation, but is understood only as a mystery, so quit explaining it.


  1. Todd Erickson says

    Please explain the Infinite God and give three examples.

    It’s so like Paul to drop a statement like ‘predestined’ in the middle of a letter without really stopping to discuss it…it becomes increasingly clear that he had his eye on a lot of things that he absolutely couldn’t explain to anybody in any useful way.

    But then, I also wonder what that word actually is in the greek, and what it means.

    It often feels like after 4th century, much of the church reinvented so much of the doctrine of the bible in their own terms, outside of jewish history, outside of what Jesus possibly could have been talking to other Jews about, outside of what Paul would have been talking to Jews and Greeks about. Just painfully strange, at times.

    If time is just another part of creation, then is it possible that God can see the future, as well as keep tweaking the present to create the future He desires? *head explodes*


    Does this in any way defy or deny free will? Not as He has created it.

    Can we explain it? Not at all. I, being a infinite created being living in a single aspect of time am extremely limited in terms of what I can know or experience.

    If I attempt to define God only in terms of what I can know or Understand…then I am pursuing an extremely poor God.

  2. So…no mention of Barth’s view of predestination? It’s revolutionary!!!

  3. jin, or Michael,

    so what is Barth’s view of predestination?

  4. al:

    Barth argues that Jesus, as ‘the new adam’, is both the elect and the reprobate on behalf of all humanity. So everyone is elect, because if you try to head towards hell you find that Jesus got there first and has blocked the way. Nowhere to go but up!

  5. People really took my above comments pessimistically. But there are some fair critiques.

    I said, “There’s a huge chance you’re elect.” iMonk asked, “Why wouldn’t that sow the seeds of a lifetime of fear that a child is not elect?” Fair question. I see how it could—if you prefer to focus on the miniscule chance you’re not elect. I don’t, and discourage this focus whenever I see it. There’s far too much evidence you are elect. Just like there’s far too much evidence Jesus is risen. Too many focus on the tiny doubt instead of faith. I encourage faith. But it’s not appropriate for me to guarantee anything; only God can do that.

    Secondly—I’m not Reformed either. I’m Pentecostal. I know, many Reformed folks make obedience the only sign of assurance, just as many Pentecostals make baptism of the Holy Spirit the only sign of assurance. Both are wrong. Fruit of the Spirit is the sign. Paul said those who demonstrate the contrary works of the flesh won’t inherit the Kingdom. Those who demonstrate the fruit will inherit.

    I don’t know too many folks who despair because they can’t love, or have joy or peace, or be patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self-controlled. Usually they’re too busy being theologically correct jerks to care. (Not to knock the folks who care about theology. I care too. But theology without love is Paul before he met Jesus.)

    Okay, Patrick: I’ll try to answer briefly so as to not take things off-topic too far. An evangelist is someone who shares the good news of Christ Jesus; a false teacher concentrates more on accumulating numbers, fans, hits on their website, book sales, etc. My efforts or presence guarantees no one’s salvation (see above) but it does indicate, at least, the Spirit’s trying to get their attention by throwing me at ’em. The last question I don’t understand. Best to email.

  6. Calvinists are attracted to this doctrine like a moth to the flame.

    Michael, I’ve been in exclusively Calvinist circles since my conversion. I don’t disagree with the Calvinistic interpretation of election, but recently I’ve wondered why it is brought up in Scripture. Some day I’d like to take a closer look at the reason for Paul using it in Ephesians. Was it a truth to be used to condemn the rest of the human race in arrogance? Or, was it meant to be a pastoral encouragement to those he wrote to in order for them to live a life of joy?

  7. As I see it, the question of election or predestination is a paradox we can only begin to understand by considering God’s unique relationship to time. Though I really can’t fully wrap my mind around this, God is somehow both outside of time as we understand it and right in here with us inside time’s boundaries. He literally sees the end from the beginning, and what we experience as moment by moment choices and struggles, He can view as a book He’s already read (or written). He already knows the choices we will make before we make them, yet he convicts and guides and strives with us as if He didn’t know the final outcome of our lives.
    But we humans, however, are completely trapped inside of time and incapable of genuinely viewing things from a timeless perspective. And I suspect that the fact that we exist only inside of time has a lot to do with how God extends grace to us. Christ came to us in the flesh and inside of time to place God’s grace and salvation within the grasp of mere human time-bound choice. And in the same way that he removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, maybe He actually chooses not to read ahead in the book of our lives so that He can better deal with us in love and in the present tense.
    That said, Calvinism seems to me like a doctrinal attempt to both view the world from God’s timeless perspective and to judge people’s souls from that perspective as well. As time-bound creatures, I don’t think we have any business doing that. Here inside of time, cause and effect are in full effect, and choices really are choices and should be regarded as such.
    I think real salvation (and election) occurs when the Father’s choosing of a person and a person’s choosing of the Son as Lord and Savior intersect at a point both inside and outside of time.

  8. Michael, you may not be headed for Purgatory, and I may not be headed for Purgatory, but that’s not to say we’re both headed in the same direction.

    You’ll probably be fitted out for the harp and wings 😉

  9. You people are talking about election as if it were something pleasant, to be treasured in your heart as a validation of faith. That has not been my experience at all. I am fairly certain (to the extent my limited being can be certain of anything) that I am elect. I have arrived at this conclusion because God seems to thrust me into situations time and time again where I have to grow and be an instrustrument of His grace in order to come out the other side more or less intact. Growth is never a pleasant thing and responding with grace rather than justice can be stressful to say the least. Always Nineveh, never Tarshish.
    So, my thing is why is God doing this to me if I am not elect? What is the official Reformed doctrine on the righteousness of the non-elect?

  10. al,

    I honestly have a hard time understanding Barth’s position on election (and his theology in general). Although I think what Andrew said is correct…although it makes Barth sound almost like a universalist…and I’m pretty sure Barth didn’t hold to such a belief.

    All in all, I think what Barth was trying to get at was that even issues such as election and predestination have no relevance or point whatsoever if Jesus Christ himself is left out of these doctrines. That’s why oftentimes I get ticked off when some Calvinists exclude Jesus Christ from their doctrine of predestination, because to them it’s just God and the individual; when in reality it’s mainly about Jesus…not the individual or God (that is the tyrannical, cold hearted monster that we see when we talk about predestination w/o Jesus).

    Any Barthian scholars out there who can clear this up?! I know you guys are out there!!!

  11. “Jesus may have died for you..” is really about all a double predestinarian Calvinist (God destines some to heaven and some to hell)can say to people when evangelizing.

  12. Michael, thanks for identifying Miguel’s “Piper quote” as being from Charles Spurgeon. I have wondered about the source for years. I first heard it expressed slightly differently, that over the outside of the gate of Heaven is engraved, “Whosoever will may come” and over the inside is engraved, “Chosen in him from before the foundation of the world.” (Not “predestined” but “chosen”.) I first heard it 40 years ago from my pastor, Dr. Torrey Johnson, who helped found Youth For Christ. He said it was a mystery best left in the hands of God (the subject of the quote, not Youth For Christ!). I also heard Dr. Johnson say, “God has voted for you, Satan has voted against you, and you have the deciding vote.”

    As a result, I have never, ever, participated in the TULIP wars.

    Thanks for all you do.

  13. It really does comes back to Jesus-shaped spirituality. One falls into a ditch anytime one tries to understand God by any other means but Jesus.

    “[God] does not want to be known as he is “in heaven,” in his mere “almightiness” or even merely as “the God of predestination.” He wants to be known as the God in the manger or at his mother’s breasts, the God who suffered and died and rose again. His almightiness, his unchangeability, the threat of predestination-all these things are “masks” which God wears, so to speak, to drive us to look elsewhere, to look away from heaven and down to earth, to the manger and the cross, to preaching and the sacraments. For the point is that God simply does not want to be known and will not be known on any other level. He hides himself behind a mask which is intended to drive many away in fear to a place where he, as revealed God, wants to be known.” – Gerhard Forde, from “Where God Meets Man”.

  14. dan and Ted: I, too, focus on 1 Timothy which talks about God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of Him. That is the Jesus I know. That is the God that is always there with wide arms welcoming back his wandering children. Growing up Catholic, I never even HEARD the term “election” in theology until I spent time on the Protestant-based blogs. All I knew was that Jesus died to save us all from sin, but that we could refuse his saving grace if, for some reason, we preferred the darkness. God, give us your light to live by every day. Amen.

  15. “Jesus may have died for you” Hahahahaha, as my daughter would say.

    Wouldn’t it be strange if the non-elect are those who push the idea of predestination ?

    We know them by their fruits, and is there a more bitter fruit than fighting tooth and nail to make people believe in predestination?

    It violates the very core of loving God and thy neighbor, for who would love a God who condemned you to hell before you were born, and can there be a greater hate of your neighbor than to arrogantly look at him as angels look at demons?

  16. “What is the official Reformed doctrine on the righteousness of the non-elect?”

    My understanding – and I am open to correction by the properly informed – is that one strand of interpretation says this is more or less a trap. They look and behave as if they are faithful but they’re not really saved, and so their good works and even their beliefs are *more* effectual in damning them to Hell than if they were out-and-out evildoers.

    Since they are not elect, their faith is not a saving faith, and they are in a *worse* position than those who never heard of Christ.

    This raises a question: have we any signs by which we may know the reprobrate, as distinct from the elect? (apart from “if you’re not sitting in front of an evangelist, God does not intend you to be saved.”)

  17. Dan Smith says

    As one who finds libertarian free will within scripture, I reject Total Depravity, the foundation upon which Calvin and other build their theology.

    I would not, therefore, ask such questions. I would point out that Christians are “called” thru the Gospel (2Thess 2:14), not some etherial “experience.”

  18. Okay, i’m late to the ball game but who teaches the doctrine of election to children? Especially in light of the following quote:

    “[the doctrine of election] is understood only as a mystery, so quit explaining it.”

    To paraphrase the above: “i don’t really know.”

    *i chuckle*

  19. I teach election to kids, though I don’t use the word. Kids ask me whether they can get un-saved. I tell them, “If you don’t save yourself, it also means you don’t un-save yourself. God didn’t save you because you said a sinner’s prayer; He saved you before you were even born. The point where you said the prayer was just when you realized you needed saving and decided to follow Jesus.”

    This doesn’t come up during evangelism, of course. It only comes up afterward.

    The mystery is in God’s motives for picking us and, apparently, not picking others, or even picking others to become examples of what not to do. Or in who falls into the category of “God didn’t pick that person.” Best to never speculate and just preach the gospel to everyone, just in case.

  20. Steve –

    Great question about Paul’s use of predestination in Ephesians. I think you should pursue that sooner than later. I believe Paul’s use of predestination there has more to do with ecclesiology than soteriology. I believe he is showing how God’s grand redemptive plan involves creating one new, redeemed humanity under the head of, or “in Chirst”, the representative of the new humanity. I believe he is speaking of a predestined, elect people (corporate group) and not about predestined individuals either for damnation or individual salvation.

    What do you think Paul is getting at in Ephesians?

  21. Oh, and Paul is laboring to sort out and drive home to his fellow believers that this new humanity brings together both Jew and Gentile, and the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile are no longer necessary now that God’s covenant purposes for Israel/Abraham’s offspring have been fulfilled in the faithful Israelite Jesus.

    We need to leave our individualistic lenses aside more when talking of election in my opinion.

  22. Memphis Aggie says

    AS to the childrens’ mesaage
    “1) God chooses some and not others for salvation.
    2) Some of you may not be elect.
    3) You can never know if you are elect or not.”
    I think we agree much more than we disagree on this:
    I agree will all but 3 in that some very few may know by special grace that they are saved. St Theresa of Avila knew as did St Jacinta(she was told by Our Lady at Fatima). I wouldn’t expect a Protestant to believe that of course.

    As for the portion of the Westminster Confession you quote, I see nothing to object to there at all. The Catholic Church does believe and teach in predestination. Although this is predestination of a very particular kind, and there are many warnings around this teaching, where God allows us to act freely in this life but He also knows our eternal destiny because He is outside of time. Definitely this is a mystery, not to be treated as a soluble problem.

    One more point, or quibble really, please don’t see obedience as despair. It’s far from it. Obedience can be delightful because, when it’s love that motivates you, you want to serve and are grateful for any chance to do so. I know I’ve read that theme in your writings in relation to scripturally defined works. We Catholics see serving the Church as a service to Jesus. You don’t have to agree to see the parallel.

  23. Memphis Aggie says

    One more bit on Purgatory. The holy souls in Purgatory are saved, but not fully sanctified. So some of “the Elect” could go through Purgatory under Catholic teaching. Not that I expect you to believe that either, but for the sake of clarity I thought I’d toss that in.

  24. I would like to second what Jeremy Berg said about corporate election.

    When Paul uses the term elect, he is using a term that would have normally been applied to Israel the people. Also election is a category that not only has a dimension of purpose and in the OT the purpose of the election usually extended to the non-elect as well. (Think about the election of Abraham in Gen 12. He was elected to a be a blessing to all. We see this same theme in Romans 11 and dozens of other places.)

    Election is the calling of a particular people to be particular agents of God’s purpose for the good of all people.

    When we read Ephesians with our individual Reformed blinders on those passages about election seem out of place in the larger themes of the letter. But in the context of the Jewish notion of an elect people the argument that you all are now the elect people of God together acting as agents of grace in the world precisely fits with the rest of the letter.

    My three sentences.

    God is loving and gracious.
    God has consistently set apart a people to live as an example of righteousness and as a blessing to the whole world.
    If you are in Christ you are part of the elect, blessed to be a blessing to others, saved to proclaim salvation, made alive that you might live in the world as ambassador for the gospel.

  25. Simply put, the Bible clearly states ( it is written) That it is not meant to minister that which is ‘meat’ of the word to those without understanding ( scriptual maturity
    ), and are not able to receive the word. Yes, we must walk in God discerning power before teaching doctrine on ‘Election’.

  26. the church seems to have taken away the clear assurances of scripture

    Off topic, yes, but I’m hung up reconciling, say, 1 John 5:13 with, um, Matthew 5:3.

    Good post and comments … I’m learning … gradually.

  27. Hi,

    Love you blog and your podcasts. I believe that The Father wants everyone created to come and know him through his Son. I have never believed in the doctrine of election and really can’t reconcile The Father intentionally choosing some to be in his presence and some not.

    I believe that the doctrine of election was created because man was not able to live in the mystery of some who come to follow him and some who do not follow him.

    God’s love is available to all, His Spirit pursues all and only some respond – that is the mystery to me.

    Love to all.


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