Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace
This is the second in a series about Christian doctrines that make no sense to me.
There are several theological doctrines that are widely held by Christians that I just plain do not understand. I have dug into the Scriptures and read commentaries both pro and con, and cannot find cogent explanations for these doctrines. If these doctrines are correct, I would like to understand why, so that I can correct my thinking in these areas.
The doctrines I’d like to consider in this blog entry are Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace.
I know that several of my readers hold to these doctrines. The reason I am posting this is because I do not understand these beliefs. My intent in this series is not to offend anyone, but rather, I’m hoping someone can give me a well-reasoned, cogent explanation. I’m seeking to understand the truth, not to attack anyone’s theology.
Unconditional election is the Calvinist doctrine that before God created the world, he elected to save some people according to his own purposes, apart from any conditions related to those persons. This basically means that God’s act of saving is not based on what man chooses or wills, but man is chosen by God solely by God’s grace, thus unconditional election.
Irresistible Grace is the doctrine which teaches that the saving grace of God is efficaciously applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God’s timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith in Christ. Since man is so corrupt that he cannot decide and cannot be persuaded to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene.
These two doctrines together are commonly referred to a predestination, which is basically the belief that God predestines or predetermines who will be saved, and there is nothing we as fallen depraved human beings can do about it. If God has elected a person, they will be saved; if He has not elected a person, they will not be saved. Human beings have no choice in the matter.
There are literally thousands of Bible passages dealing with the topic. Some verses emphasize the sovereignty of God; others emphasize mankind’s choice. It seems that most arguments against unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore the passages that discuss God’s sovereignty and predestining, while most arguments for unconditional election and irresistible grace ignore passages that discuss man’s choice to respond or not respond to God’s calling.
The biggest problem I have regarding unconditional election and irresistible grace is the flip-side of the doctrines: what happens to the unelected? If God has predetermined who will be saved, then He has also predetermined who will be unsaved. If human beings have no choice in the matter whatsoever, then God has created billions of people for the sole purpose of sending them to Hell for all eternity. God has not and will not reach out to them to save them; they cannot respond to the Cross of Christ; they were damned before the creation of the world. The Westminster Confession, after stating the doctrine of election, adds:
“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”
This doctrine, called unconditional reprobation, is problematic if God is omnibenevolent or completely loving. How could a loving God create people to whom He will never offer a chance at redemption? How could God, before the creation of the world, select vast numbers of human beings, and allow them to come into existence specifically for the purpose of sending them to Hell? Since God is love, why would He not want to offer salvation to everyone? How can it “pleaseth” a loving God to “witholdeth mercy?” This makes no sense to me!
It seems to me that unconditional reprobation is logically necessary if unconditional election and irresistible grace are true; yet, unconditional reprobation is inconsistent with the loving character and nature of the God of the Bible. I’ve read numerous detailed attempts to explain how unconditional reprobation does not mean God is arbitrary and how God is still loving, but I have yet to find one that makes sense to me. Most of the arguments I’ve read simply involve trying to redefine terms so that they mean something other than what they mean, which does nothing but make my head spin. The problem is still the same, even if the terms are redefined. How can a loving God pick and choose some that He wills to go to Heaven, and others He wills to send to Hell?
If unconditional reprobation, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are true, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the elect that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever He elected shall believe in Him and not perish but have everlasting life.” The fact that God so loved the world implies that God’s salvation through grace is available to everyone; the fact that whoever believes in Him should not perish implies a choice of the will.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign; it also clearly teaches that man has a will, and is responsible for his choices. It’s not an issue of God’s sovereignty or man’s will – it’s a matter of understanding how both exist at the same time. It appears to me that the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace focus too much on God’s sovereignty, at the expense of God’s love; Armenians focus too much on the opposite. There must be a reality that fully includes both God’s sovereignty and His love.
If someone can explain to me how irresistible grace, unconditional election, and unconditional reprobation do not contradict God’s absolute love, I’d appreciate a comment clearing up my understanding. Otherwise, this doctrine will have to stay filed under “Christian Doctrines I Don’t Understand.”
Filed under: Theological Positions I Don't Understand | Tagged: Armenianism, Calvinism, doctrine, election, grace, Irresistible Grace, John 3:16, Predestination, Sovereignty, theology, Unconditional Election | 11 Comments »