A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part III
Starting Points (Key Questions and Key Texts)
The questions we bring to the text shape our understanding. So what are the primary questions and texts that give shape to the way these theologians define election? Grudem’s chapter title in his Systematic Theology reveals his approach and his central questions – Election and Reprobation: When and why did God choose us? Are some not chosen? These questions reveal Grudem interest in seeking to know why God chooses us individually, thus he begins his treatment on election by taking a look at the Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation), placing election as the starting point. When it comes to his approach to scripture, he passes over the Old Testament, with an exclusive focus on the New. The text mentioned most often is Roman’s 9, especially the “Jacob I love, but Esau” I hated passage. These starting points help to form his definition, “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” (Grudem 1994: p. 670)
In contrast, Newbigin’s central questions come as a result of being on mission. The first comes from the mission field in India. “To a devout Hindu, heir to four thousand years of profound religious and philosophical experience, there is something truly scandalous in the suggestion that, to put it crudely, he or she must import the necessities of salvation from abroad.” (Newbigin 1995:96) Why if you have a “universal” or global message, could God not reveal it to us in our history? Are you his favorites? “If God is truly God – God of all people and all the earth – then surely God can and will save me where I am with the means he has provided for me in the long experience of my own people” (Newbigin 1995:67). Questions also came from his homeland: “Why seek more adherents for your particular religious group? Why don’t you just join with all people who are seeking to tackle the real problems of humanity like hunger, oppression, and alienation? Isn’t your entire mission an offense against the unity of humanity?”
In was in this crucible that he was seeking understanding of the doctrine of election. While Grudem focuses exclusively on the New Testament, Newbigin takes a wide-angle view of the entire story of scripture looking at the universal and cosmic purposes painted in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and proceeds to talk about how those purposes are carried out through a continuous series of particular choices. He traces this idea through the Old Testament, the gospels, acts and the letters. One of his favorite verses from Jesus is, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16) He makes the point that while God is the creator, ruler an sustainer of all, he doesn’t reveal himself simultaneously and equally to all. “He chooses one to be the bearer of his blessing for the many. Abraham is chosen … to receive the blessing through which all nations will be blessed.” (Newbigin 1995:68). He speaks of one being chosen over another, but for the sake of all. Isaac is chosen, Ishmael is not: Jacob, not Esau; the particular for the universal. Genesis 12, the calling of Abraham, is Newbigin’s starting point, which helps to form his definition: “To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost. To be elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into his mission to the world, to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for his whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the first fruit of his blessed kingdom, which is for all” (Newbigin 1989:86,87).
In part IV we will discuss the purpose of election in the eyes of Grudem and Newbigin.