Election is one of those doctrines that has been debated heavily ever since Christ instituted his church, and even before that. Even within the classes of the first century Pharisees, there was debate over the nature of God’s sovereignty, sin, free will, and salvation. Of course, this debate has not changed much today.
The doctrine of election attempts to answer why God saves sinners. More specifically, election is meant to convey God’s choosing of sinners toward salvation.
And the main debate revolving around election relates to the reason behind God’s choosing of sinners to salvation. Does God choose to save in response to man’s faith? Or does man respond in faith because of God’s choosing? The questions go on and on. And also, if you can’t tell, this debate will involves other issues of theology, including the nature of God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, the nature of sin, and etc.
Those who hold to a high view of God’s sovereignty believe that Christians believe in Jesus only because God chose them first. Those who esteem free will see that believers are chosen by God only because they choose him first. Then of course, there are views that try to find a healthy middle — this middle view seeks to see an exchange between God and man. God’s seeks first, convicts and enables by his Spirit, and then waits for an assisted response from man. In this sense, they see salvation as synergistic, being of God and man.
With that said, there are four main views on this doctrine of election that I will cover below. And, they will cover the grid concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
1) Conditional Election: This view holds that God chooses us only in response to our free choice of him. In this sense, our election is conditioned to our response of faith to Jesus (though people who espouse this view would of course agree that sinners need the drawing and enabling of the Spirit to believe — in that way, election is conditioned upon God as well). When we respond with faith in Christ, God then elects us. Because God exhaustively knows all events, he can know from the foundation of the world of those who will respond in faith. In this sense, God chooses us before we believe, but only in response to our future faith.
2) Corporate Election: This view holds that just as God chose the nation of Israel corporately, so God chose the body of Christ/the church to be the corporate body to which he bestows salvation. What this means is that God didn’t choose individuals to save; rather, he chose a body in which all who desire salvation must enter. God elected that the means to salvation would be in Christ. Arguably, Jacob Arminius held this position. Arminius says that election is “the decree by which God is resolved to justify believers [in Christ] but to condemn unbelievers” — so, God’s election is that those in Christ would be saved. In this way, when Paul says in Ephesians 1 that God chose believers in Christ, it is the “in Christ” that is God’s corporate choice. Robert Shank argues this view in Elect in the Son.
3) Congruent Election: This view, though similar to conditional election, has a nuanced difference. This view holds that since God dwells in eternity, he sees all things eternally now. He sees all peoples and events, past present and future, as if it was all right now. In this sense, God sees all believers all at the same time, and he sovereignly chooses them from his eternal-now-perspective. But, because men dwell in time, and make free choices, they also choose to believe in Christ from their perspective. In this way, from one side, God unconditionally chooses us in eternity, but we also conditionally choose God in time — thus, election is congruent. Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free espouses this view.
4) Unconditional Election: Finally, unconditional election, part of the larger doctrine of Calvinism (the above three are expressions of Arminianism), argues that God chooses whom he wills to save in love, not as a result of any foreseen response or merit in man, but rather based on his sovereign pleasure and desire to have mercy. This means his love is unmerited, and unconditional — it is not contingent upon anything in the receiver. And because it was God’s choice to save and not man’s, our choice to receive the forgiveness found in Jesus is resultant of God’s choice to pursue and save us. God’s love for his elect causes and compels him to redeem them through Christ’s sacrifice. So then, before the foundation of the world, God unconditionally purposed to redeem individual sinners through Christ’s death and resurrection. Michael Horton has a great little book on this, called For Calvinism.
If you can’t already tell, I hold to unconditional election, though I believe that the other three are fine evangelical views to hold.
Which one do you believe?