Despite the terms “predestination” and “election” being quite controversial today in theological circles, Jack Cottrell (blog), Professor of Theology at Cincinnati Christian University, starts off his essay reminding us that the Greek words behind these terms hold very common meanings. These words simply mean “to plan before hand” and to “choose or select”.
In the Scriptures these terms can refer to groups and/or individuals. Furthermore these terms do not always mean those who are chosen for salvation. They can also specify those who are chosen to service (see also this post).
In order to properly understand election, Cottrell rightly argues, we should first understand it as being Christ-centric.
Election primarily reflects God’s choices around establishing the Messiah.
- Jesus is the Chosen One. He is chosen to be the Messiah and Savior (Isaiah 42:1; Matt 12:18) in the plan of salvation established before creation (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:20).
- Israel is the group of people chosen by God to serve as the nation that “would produce the Christ” (Rom 9:4-5) and receive the Scriptures (Rom 3:2).
- The Church is the group of people chosen by God to “participate in [Jesus’] saving work and the proclamation of it” (1 Pet 2:9).
While Israel and the Church each reflect a “corporate election to service”, Cottrell says we can’t ignore the Scripture’s teaching on election to salvation, which has both a corporate and individual aspect.
Corporate election is the idea that “the way of salvation is predestined” rather than the individuals themselves. All, in a general sense, who are found in Christ will be saved through His death and resurrection.
Jesus Christ is the elect one, and that all other redemptive election is in him.
Individual election is the idea that in addition to the general plan of salvation being established before the creation of the world, “God [also] wills to save those individuals whom he foresees as believing and persevering”.
Throughout the essay, Cottrell asks and answers a series of questions about election. Here are the questions and a summary quote that captures Cottrell’s main points.
How is it possible that God could determine even before the creation which individuals will be saved?
The answer is found in the fact and nature of God’s foreknowledge.
the question may well be asked the foreknowledge of what?
The answer is that he foreknows whether an individual will meet the conditions for salvation which he has sovereignly imposed.
What are these conditions [of salvation which are foreknown]?
The basic and all encompassing condition is whether a person is in Christ. … there are also conditions which one must meet in order to be in Christ … the basic condition, of course, is faith.
In touching on the differences between the Calvinist and the Arminian understanding of election, Cottrell notes that Calvinism makes “unbelievers the object of election”. This is because in Calvinism the emphasis is on the elect being defined as the people (ie unbelievers) that God chooses to save and thus will become believers. Arminianism, however, emphasizes the believer as the object of election. The elect are not unbelievers who will be saved, but rather the people (ie believers) that having already met the condition of being in Christ are saved.
[the debate about] whether God’s decree to elect is prior to or subsequent to his decree regarding the Fall [is misplaced]. But the focal point of election is not man’s decision to sin, but rather his decision with regard to God’s offer of grace. The crucial question is whether God’s decree to elect is prior to man’s decision to accept Christ or whether it follows it.