Summary: How doctrines of election and predestination relate to our chosing God, Him choosing us and crucially the surety of our salvation.
When Andy emailed me last month to say that the theme was ‘Chosen from Eternity’ I replied saying that we would need to open the question of predestination. Now predestination isn’t in itself a problem – the idea that God foretold who would be saved and who would not before he even created mankind – but the Calvinist doctrines built around it - TULIP teach total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the P NOT for predestination but preservation of the saints. I’m not going to get into all of that – that’s probably a six-week study and an interesting one at that. If you want to read more on the subject F LaGard Smiths recent book Troubling Questions for Calvinists is a good place to start. Instead I want to think about how doctrines of election and predestination relate to our choosing God, Him choosing us and crucially the surety of our salvation.
Forgive the history lesson – but bear with me because it gives us an important context. Two things transformed religion more than anything else since the establishment of the early church shortly after Christ’s ascension. 1. The invention of the printing press and 2. The reformation, the breaking away from the Catholic Church and the pope to establish a church initially to serve the whims of an adulterous King Henry VIII. That period of history is so fascinating and I devour books set in the Tudor times – because it was then that attitudes would change forever – when the idea was introduced that ordinary people like you and me could and even should read the bible. Henry ordered that every village church should have a bible and they where inscribed with an image of God’s word being handed down from the King to his Bishops and from them to the noblemen and on down to the common man.
Crucially that early policy (later reversed to exclude women) gave rise to what were called the Biblemen – street preachers, who eventually were reigned in by Henry’s bishops – but by then men had begun to discover things in the bible that had never been discussed, things that gave rise to numerous doctrines and churches that rejected the old order of the monasteries and worship conducted in the foreign language of Latin.
One of my favorite series of books is by the author C J Sansom; about a hunchback solicitor – Matthew Shardlake, a reformer and a bit of a reluctant detective living in London during Henry’s reign and working for Archbishop Cranmer. In his most recent book – Revelation there is a young man – Adam, son of deeply religious parents, members of a new, reformed church preaching new scriptural interpretations of the bible, particularly ideas circulated by the European writers Calvin and Luther.
Crucially they preached what we know now as the central part of Calvinism – predestination and unconditional election. Many denominations still do: Presbyterian some Baptists and more evangelical members of the Church of England.
It had been proposed by Augustine and later Luther, that God, being Omniscient, knew the future, and therefore knew in advance who would be saved. This was predestination.
Calvin extended that idea, stating that God not only knew what choice every person would make in his life, God had actually decided what choices everyone would make. Individuals had no choice in this. Human Free Will was only an illusion. Therefore God had decided that certain people would live a Christian Life and be saved – He had chosen a people much like he had in the Old Testament – but this time made up from Jews and Gentiles. He had also decided that the rest would sin and be eternally damned. If you were predestined to be damned there was nothing you could do about it. God’s will was Sovereign. All Humans were "totally depraved – they had inherited Adams sin and are unable to do anything to help themselves. God’s salvation was a gift of Grace that He bestowed on who He chose. Christ died, not to save everyone, but only to save a chosen, predestined "elect."
Eph. 1:4-5; "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,"
Last bit of the history lesson: In the 1600s, a Dutch cleric, Jacob Arminius, rebelled against Calvin’s interpretation of scripture and proposed a modification, stating that God wished to save us all, not only the Elect, and that individuals could choose to accept or reject salvation. This Arminism was condemned as Catholicism by the Anglican Synod in 1619, and most of the main Reformed denominations stuck with hardline Calvinism until Victorian times.