Dr. Sam Storms, a Calvinistic Pastor and author who serves with John Piper on the board of Desiring God Ministries, recently wrote an article titled “10 Things You Should Know about Election.” Today we are going to go through the first three of these points so as to clearly contrast the Calvinistic view from the Traditional perspective. Dr. Storms writes:
- Election is a pre-temporal decision by God, a choice he made before any of us ever existed.
God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God “saved us,” said Paul, “and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
According to Traditionalism, God’s “pre-temporal decision” it was to justify, sanctify and glorify whosoever freely puts their hope in Christ, not to effectually bind all people into a disabled condition from birth only to irresistibly rescue a preselected few.
As to Paul’s teaching to the church in Ephesus, does the apostle actually say that God chose for certain individuals to be effectually placed “in Christ before the foundation of the world” as Storms seems to imply? No. The text simply states that “the faithful in Christ” (vs. 1) have been chosen to become “holy and blameless” (vs. 4) before the foundation of the world. When and how are individuals placed “in Christ,” according to Paul?
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Eph. 1:13
When were they included in Christ? When were they marked in Him? Was it before the foundation of the earth as Storms interpretation would suggest? Of course not. Look at what Paul states:
“…when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Eph. 1:13-14
The text clearly indicates that God has predetermined that the “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (vs. 1) will become “holy and blameless” (sanctification – vs. 4) and they will be “adopted” (glorification – vs. 5). (Note: Romans 8:23 clearly indicates that Paul sees “adoption” as a future hope for all who come to faith.) (More on Ephesians 1 can be seen HERE.)
And of course, Traditionalists would agree with Dr. Storms that God saved “us” (the faithful in Christ) apart from works and on the basis of his own purpose and grace. If one does not conflate man’s free choice to repent with God’s free choice to save the repentant, then this is not an issue that needs to be reconciled. Humbly admitting you need salvation is not equal to saving yourself. Confessing your sin, even if done freely, does not earn or merit forgiveness for that sin, otherwise there would have been no need for the cross. God could have just forgiven Abraham of his sin debt because his faith merited it. Even though Abraham believed in God he still had a debt that he could not pay. God graciously chose to pay that debt through the sacrifice of His Son, without which no one would be saved.
- Divine election is not merely corporate, but also of individuals.
Whereas it is true that Christ is himself the Elect One, and whereas it is true that the Church is the chosen or elect people of God, individuals are themselves chosen by God to believe in Christ in order that they might become members of the church. In other words, God didn’t simply choose the church. He chose the specific individuals who would comprise the church.
The Traditional view does not deny that election includes individuals. It is a gross misrepresentation of our view to suggest otherwise. Traditionalists teach God has chosen believing individuals for salvation whereas Calvinists teach God has chosen to irresistibly turn certain individuals into believers by supernatural means so as to save them.
Storm’s view makes God responsible for man’s choice to humble himself and repent in faith. This is not the biblical teaching, however. Again and again scripture tells you to “humble yourself” so as to be justified and exalted (Lk. 18:10-14; 1Pt. 5:5-6; Is. 66:2; Jm. 4:10; Ps. 18:27). Not once does the Bible say that God will irresistibly humble you and cause you to willingly repent in faith. If you wait for God to irresistibly humble you then you will be too late, because that won’t be until the final judgment when he makes every knee to bow (Rm. 14:11).
On a related note, this glorious act of God’s grace in electing some is unto eternal salvation and not simply to temporal service. Paul gave thanks for the Thessalonians because “God chose” them “as the firstfruits to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:13).
Here Storms addresses the “election to service” perspective, which teaches that God has chosen certain individuals to serve a noble purpose in His redemptive plan (like His choice of the apostles or prophets). But, by this argument, Storms seems to imply that Traditionalists holding to this perspective do not also affirm God’s election of individuals to salvation. As stated above, however, Traditionalism does affirm that God has elected to save whoever humbles themselves and repents in faith.
The fact that God has ALSO chosen certain individuals, like Paul, for the noble cause of bringing His inspired message to the world, does not change this truth. In other words, Traditionalists are not arguing that God has EITHER chosen some individuals for salvation OR for service, but that he has BOTH chosen individuals for salvation AND for service. We just do not believe God makes this choice arbitrarily (and before you object to the term “arbitrary” please look it up in the dictionary and explain how the unconditional choice of God described by Calvinists does not perfectly match that definition).
After the Gentiles heard the gospel preached, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
Context is key to rightly understanding this historical narrative. Please read THIS ARTICLE to better understand our perspective. Storms goes on to write,
- Everyone who believes the Bible believes in election.
The issue isn’t whether or not God chooses people to inherit eternal life. The issue is the basis on which that divine choice is made.
Some believe that God restores in the fallen human heart the ability or freedom of will to believe. Ultimately, then, whether or not they receive or finally reject Christ is up to them.
Others believe that the Bible nowhere teaches this notion of “prevenient grace” in which the depravity and moral corruption of the human heart is to some extent neutralized or overcome. Therefore, if anyone is to believe it must come about through the work of the Holy Spirit, who sovereignly regenerates their hearts and then effectually and unfailingly brings the elect individual to faith and repentance. Ultimately, then, whether or not they receive Christ is up to God.
Here Storms addresses the classical Arminian perspective, which mistakenly concedes to the reformed teaching of Total Inability. Total Inability is the doctrine that all fallen people are born without “the ability or freedom of the will to believe” the clearly inspired word of God appealing for all to be reconciled from their fallenness.)
Even among Traditionalists, there exists various nuances over the nature of fallen humanity in response to God’s revelation. However, the Traditional statement, signed by many notable Traditional scholars, clearly denounces the concept of “Total Inability,” a view maintained by many classical Arminian scholars.
“Total Inability” is the belief that all humanity is born incapable of willingly coming to Christ for salvation even in light of the Holy Spirit wrought truth of the Gospel, unless God graciously works to empower the will of lost man (effectually by way of regeneration for the Calvinist, and sufficiently by way of “prevenient grace” for the Arminian). Traditionalists simply do not accept the presumption that the libertarian freedom of man’s will was lost due to the Fall. As article two of the Traditional statement says,
“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned.”
This simply removes the presumed quandary posed by Storms leaving the Traditionalist perspective without rebuttal. Traditionalists affirm that if anyone is to believe it must come about through the work of the Holy Spirit. We just happen to believe the gospel revelation is a sufficient work of the Holy Spirit and cannot conceive why anyone would assume otherwise without clear Biblical evidence.
Traditionalists agree that the Holy Spirit must work to enable the lost, we just do not assume that work is accomplished by some kind of inward, irresistible means that removes all human responsibility in the process. The work of the Holy Spirit, from our perspective, is the commissioning and sending out of the inspired gospel itself, “the power of God unto salvation” (Rm. 1:16) through His bride, the church (Matt. 28:16-20). For how will they believe in one whom they have not heard, and how will they hear unless someone is sent (Rm. 10:14)?
Finally, special attention should be brought to Storms statement above, “whether or not they receive Christ is up to God.” Calvinists relish speaking about those who do receive Christ on their systematic but the difficulty of their system becomes much more evident when one focuses attention upon those who refuse to receive Christ.
According to Storm’s own admission, the decision of countless unbelievers to reject Christ was “up to God.” This view puts a huge blight on His divine character and Holiness. James teaches us that God does not even tempt man to evil (Jm. 1:13), yet Storms suggests that God is ultimately responsible for every sinner’s rejection of Christ’s call to repent in faith (what more evil act is there than the rejection of Christ?). The Traditional perspective credits God for the provision of atonement for all while still maintaining the responsibility (“the-ability-to-respond”) of those who reject that provision.
More to come at a later date…