Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part IV

How a Robust View of Election Leads to a Holistic Gospel and Meaningful Mission Engagement

Part I is the introduction to this series.  In Part II, I look at missional modes of theological reflection. In Part III, I look at Grudem and Newbigin’s starting points (key questions and key texts)  This leads us to their view of election.

The Purpose of Election
Grudem mentions three basic purposes for election.  First, he says, “The New Testament authors often present the doctrine of election as a comfort to believers”[1] citing Romans 8:28. Second, he mentions how election increases praise to God, because God saved us by his choice and by his grace, our natural response is to praise him for what he has done.  The third purpose he mentions is that election is an encouragement to evangelism.  After reflecting on II Timothy 2:10 he says, “Election is Paul’s guarantee that there will be some success for his evangelism, for he knows that some of the people he speaks to will be the elect, and they will believe the gospel and be saved.  It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, ‘I guarantee that you will catch some fish – they are hungry and waiting.’“[2]

In discussing the purposes of election, Grudem anticipates potential misconceptions that people may develop, so he seeks to make it clear that this view of election doesn’t necessarily lead to a fatalistic or mechanistic understanding, because “the New Testament presents the entire outworking of our salvation as something brought about by a personal God in relationship with personal creatures”[3] and we are genuine people who “make willing choices to accept or reject the gospel.”[4] In this he seeks to demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and human freedom don’t have to be at odds with each other.  Grudem, rejects the idea that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge of our decision, he concludes that the reason for election is simply God’s sovereign choice. He “destined us in love to be his sons.”[5] Grudem holds to the historical Calvinist view of unconditional election. It is unconditional election because “it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in us that makes us worthy of his choosing us.”[6]

Both Grudem and Newbigin hold to God’s sovereign free choice in electing whom He chooses to elect.  Newbigin when discussing issues surrounding “ultimate authority”, and asked, “By what authority do you…” One of the reasons he cites is, “only because I have been laid hold of by Another, and commission to do so.  It is not primarily or essentially my decision.”[7] While Grudem focuses on the “why” question: “Why did God choose us?”  Newbigin focuses on the “what” question: “What is the purpose for which God has elected us?”  This leads Newbigin from a orientation toward “us”, to an orientation toward “the other”.  For Newbigin, election is God’s chosen method of bringing his blessing to the world.[8] Newbigin consistently seeks to fight what he considers to be a false idea of election – that it is about a privileged status before God.  He persistently emphasizes that the nature of election is that God has called us to be bearers of the blessing, not exclusive beneficiaries.[9] After asking the “what” question, Newbigin proceeds to the “why” question, but his “why” question is different than Grudem’s.  It is “Why has God chosen this method of election?” instead of “Why has He chosen us?”  Newbigin gives three reasons why God has chosen the method of election to bring his blessing to the whole world.[10] The first reason relates to the personal character of God, and that we are made in his image. The logic of election relates to the “inter-personal relatedness” which belongs to the very being of God, and because we are made in the image of that “being-in-relatedness,”[11] it is logical that salvation for humans takes place in relationship. Second, the nature and destiny of humanity require election, as we will see in a moment.  Third, the very nature of salvation, which God is working out in the world, demands it.  Why did God chose the method of election?

“It means that the gift of salvation would be bound up with our openness to one another.  It would not come to each, direct from above, like a shaft of light through the roof.  It would come from the neighbor in the action by which we open the door to invite the neighbor in.  But the neighbor would have to be sent (Rom. 10:14).  There would have to be one called and chosen to be bearer of the blessing.  The blessing is intended for all.”[12]

In Part V, I will look at how both Grudem and Newbigin talk about Election and Judgment.

[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 673.
[2] Ibid., p. 674.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 675.
[5] Ephesians 1:5
[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 679.
[7] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 17.
[8] Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 54, 55.
[9] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 32.
[10] Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 103,104.
[11] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 70.
[12] Ibid., p.70,71.

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