Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part IV

How a Robust View of Election Leads to a Holistic Gospel and Meaningful Mission Engagement

Part I is the introduction to this series.  In Part II, I look at missional modes of theological reflection. In Part III, I look at Grudem and Newbigin’s starting points (key questions and key texts)  This leads us to their view of election.

The Purpose of Election
Grudem mentions three basic purposes for election.  First, he says, “The New Testament authors often present the doctrine of election as a comfort to believers”[1] citing Romans 8:28. Second, he mentions how election increases praise to God, because God saved us by his choice and by his grace, our natural response is to praise him for what he has done.  The third purpose he mentions is that election is an encouragement to evangelism.  After reflecting on II Timothy 2:10 he says, “Election is Paul’s guarantee that there will be some success for his evangelism, for he knows that some of the people he speaks to will be the elect, and they will believe the gospel and be saved.  It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, ‘I guarantee that you will catch some fish – they are hungry and waiting.’“[2]

In discussing the purposes of election, Grudem anticipates potential misconceptions that people may develop, so he seeks to make it clear that this view of election doesn’t necessarily lead to a fatalistic or mechanistic understanding, because “the New Testament presents the entire outworking of our salvation as something brought about by a personal God in relationship with personal creatures”[3] and we are genuine people who “make willing choices to accept or reject the gospel.”[4] In this he seeks to demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and human freedom don’t have to be at odds with each other.  Grudem, rejects the idea that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge of our decision, he concludes that the reason for election is simply God’s sovereign choice. He “destined us in love to be his sons.”[5] Grudem holds to the historical Calvinist view of unconditional election. It is unconditional election because “it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in us that makes us worthy of his choosing us.”[6]

Both Grudem and Newbigin hold to God’s sovereign free choice in electing whom He chooses to elect.  Newbigin when discussing issues surrounding “ultimate authority”, and asked, “By what authority do you…” One of the reasons he cites is, “only because I have been laid hold of by Another, and commission to do so.  It is not primarily or essentially my decision.”[7] While Grudem focuses on the “why” question: “Why did God choose us?”  Newbigin focuses on the “what” question: “What is the purpose for which God has elected us?”  This leads Newbigin from a orientation toward “us”, to an orientation toward “the other”.  For Newbigin, election is God’s chosen method of bringing his blessing to the world.[8] Newbigin consistently seeks to fight what he considers to be a false idea of election – that it is about a privileged status before God.  He persistently emphasizes that the nature of election is that God has called us to be bearers of the blessing, not exclusive beneficiaries.[9] After asking the “what” question, Newbigin proceeds to the “why” question, but his “why” question is different than Grudem’s.  It is “Why has God chosen this method of election?” instead of “Why has He chosen us?”  Newbigin gives three reasons why God has chosen the method of election to bring his blessing to the whole world.[10] The first reason relates to the personal character of God, and that we are made in his image. The logic of election relates to the “inter-personal relatedness” which belongs to the very being of God, and because we are made in the image of that “being-in-relatedness,”[11] it is logical that salvation for humans takes place in relationship. Second, the nature and destiny of humanity require election, as we will see in a moment.  Third, the very nature of salvation, which God is working out in the world, demands it.  Why did God chose the method of election?

“It means that the gift of salvation would be bound up with our openness to one another.  It would not come to each, direct from above, like a shaft of light through the roof.  It would come from the neighbor in the action by which we open the door to invite the neighbor in.  But the neighbor would have to be sent (Rom. 10:14).  There would have to be one called and chosen to be bearer of the blessing.  The blessing is intended for all.”[12]

In Part V, I will look at how both Grudem and Newbigin talk about Election and Judgment.


[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 673.
[2] Ibid., p. 674.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 675.
[5] Ephesians 1:5
[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 679.
[7] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 17.
[8] Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 54, 55.
[9] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 32.
[10] Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 103,104.
[11] Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 70.
[12] Ibid., p.70,71.


9 Responses to A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part IV

  1. Matt heerema says:

    Wonderful synopses! Love Newbigin’s slant here. Good
    complement to Grudem.

  2. Rick Cruse says:

    “Who” are the elect? If election is entirely sovereign and initiated solely from God’s side, then where does that leave the biblical requirement of faith…for without faith it’s impossible to please God? Thus, election is conditional, and those elected to be carriers of the message, to be participants in God’s mission, are those who respond in faith to the message as mediated through and demonstrated by the Spirit, the Word and the body of Christ.

    I like seeing election as an integral part of mission (saved into the world to be a blessing) as opposed simply to salvation. Newbigin’s five stages (creation, fall, election [Israel, then the church], redemption [now, not yet], and consummation) provide, for me, the clearest and simplest way to understand Gods Big Story. God chose a man (Abram) who became a family that became a nation [election], entrusted with a calling atmwhich the nation ultimately failed. Then God sent forth his Son, in the fullness of time, to do what the elect nation failed to do, accomplishing now and not yet redemption in which we, the church, the elect from every nation, now participate.

  3. JR Woodward says:

    Thanks Matt. Glad to know the series has been helpful.

    Rick,

    I’m totally with you, and think Newbigin’s fivefold schema of salvation history to be helpful in regard to mission. In this way, while God is the initiator, we still have the responsibility to respond to his initiative through those he chooses, and then we become part of the elect, when we respond to Christ in faith with the help of the Spirit, like Abraham. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Ryan says:

    I like a lot of what you and Newbigin are saying. I’m not sure I quite follow though when you quote:
    “It means that the gift of salvation would be bound up with our openness to one another. It would not come to each, direct from above, like a shaft of light through the roof. It would come from the neighbor in the action by which we open the door to invite the neighbor in. But the neighbor would have to be sent (Rom. 10:14). There would have to be one called and chosen to be bearer of the blessing. The blessing is intended for all.”

    I think there might be a little bit of the “swing the pendulum too far in one direction” effect going on here. You/him seem to be saying that salvation only comes as neighbor shares the gospel with neighbor. But then, what about situations like the apostle Paul’s conversion? I think it can be a bit of both and: God is on a mission to reconcile people back to himself, and as we join with God (are reconciled) and get wrapped up with God we join God on God’s mission to others. God is working to reconcile people back to himself (direct from above), and we join God in God’s work to reconcile people with the help of the Holy Spirit (neighbor to neighbor).

    Am I being unfair? Did I miss something?

  5. JR Woodward says:

    Ryan,

    You are right in that God can choose and does at times choose to directly intervene in special cases, but even in these cases, like the case of the Apostle Paul, while the Lord blinded Paul, he sent Paul to Ananias, and He sent Ananias to Paul to share the message with him. God choose Ananias to lay his hands on Paul for the recovery of his sight and to see him filled with the Spirit (Acts 9). All this is keeping with having the means fit with the ends. In other words, what Newbigin is saying, and what I wholeheartedly agree with is because God is building a new humanity, uniting Jew and Gentile, Slave and free, male and female, God’s chosen “method” of doing this is through his people, and in this way corporate salvation takes place alongside individual salvation and the means matches with the ends. Does that make sense?

  6. Ryan says:

    Thanks JR for clarifying. Yeah, I think we’re on the same page. I get what you’re saying. Thanks for putting Paul’s story within context as well. I was just trying to make sure we’re not going overboard, and putting up limits on how God can do things.

    Your comment brings 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 to mind:
    “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    I enjoy the blog and the post. Blessings!

  7. Rachel says:

    Wow, good to find you again and see that God has been gracious to you. Some very interesting points here, yes we are elected but not for sole benefit, rather to extend His grace and mercy to others. I think that is what I am reading here. Looking forward to reading more.

  8. Rachel Sargent says:

    Reading the contrast between NewBiggen and Grudem. It makes for a more missional environment but I’m totally at a loss at how to translate this within my church a orthodox presbyterian steeped in history and the slow wheels of the session . Guess I need to order your book and get it out from amazon cart. New to smart phones so typos galore!

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