Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part VI

How a Robust View of Election Leads to a Holistic Gospel and Meaningful Missional 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), and in Part IV their views on the doctrine of election. In Part V, we looked at how they understand election and judgment. Here is my short assessment.

My Assessment
The historical Calvinist viewpoint, as espoused by Grudem, leaves us with a picture of salvation that is ahistorical, individualized and reductionistic. Grudem’s starting questions shaped an individualistic reading of his selected verses, his focus on the order of salvation for individual’s accents it; his exclusive focus on the New Testament, apart from Abraham’s call, reinforces it; and the reasons he gives for the purposes of election seals this approach.  While Grudem states encouragement for evangelism as one purpose, even this is looked at with a weight on the individual. 

On the other hand, Newbigin’s missional mode of theological reflection lends itself to looking at the scripture as a whole.  He doesn’t start with Romans 9, but where scripture starts its idea of election, at Abraham’s call, Genesis 12.  He then looks at everything in light of the eschaton.  Thus, not only does he promote an understanding of salvation that is cosmic, corporate and individual, but embedded in his understanding of election is that the means of salvation are congruent with God’s intended end.[1] Because salvation is holistic, involving not just individuals, but the socio-political realms as well, the means God uses to accomplish this mission must work through the logic of election, some being chosen to be the bearers of God’s blessing for all.

In regard to usefulness for missional engagement, Grudem’s understanding that there is a “guarantee” that some will respond, could create confidence for those on mission.  But his view of election raises more questions, which he seeks to defend inadequately. Because Newbigin’s understanding was formed with the backdrop of questions he was facing in his missionary context, he was able to answer the “scandal of particularity” well, demonstrating how election is the solution to the relationship of the particular and universal. In this, Newbigin demonstrates how the logic of election leads to a strong missiology.  Being on mission also enabled him to view scripture with a missional hermeneutic, thus reading scripture with the understanding that God is both a choosing God and a missionary God, who desires to bring healing and wholeness to all humanity, through particular humans whom he calls.

Grudem’s doctrine of reprobation leaves one sensing that in the end, God does have favorites, and to hell with the rest.  This view doesn’t fit with the story of scripture and gives a false view of God. I would side with Newbigin in saying this is a “disastrous misunderstanding” of the doctrine of election.

In Part VII of this I will give my conclusion to this series.

[1] Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 106,107.

5 Responses to A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part VI

  1. Rick Cruse says:

    As I said in my FB posting of your article, FINALLY, an approach to election, and related thoughts, that doesn’t leave me cringing. Thanks for taking this on.

  2. JR Woodward says:


    You are very welcome. Thanks for your interaction throughout the series. Peace.

  3. allensmith says:

    JR, I appreciate you helping add Newbigin’s voice to the discussion of election. Very helpful material – I apologize I am 2 years late to this discussion!

    I wonder if Christopher Wright has taken some of his clues from Newbigin. In his book The Mission of God’s People (ch. 5), C. Wright explains the missional impact of Exodus 19:3-6, stating that the conditional phrase (“if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession” v. 5) is not a condition for their salvation, but a condition of their mission. The one to the many. I think I remember Richard Bauckham once saying: “When God thought globally, he acted locally and chose Abraham on behalf of the nations.”

    Have you read John Frame’s perspective on election in his book The Doctrine of God? He has a helpful distinction between “historic election” and “eternal election”. The first is conditional, the second is unconditional. They are distinct, but they cannot be entirely separated. Here’s what Frame states:

    “1. Both historical and eternal election are aspects of God’s saving purpose. The election of Israel and the temporary election of individuals in history are means by which God gathers together those who will receive his final blessing.

    2. As we have seen, the “remnant” of historical election is no less than Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is eternally elected by God (1 Pet. 1:20), together with those God has chosen to be in him. So in the end, historical and eternal election coincide. In history, they do not; for historical election is a temporal process and eternal election is forever settled before creation. All of the eternally elect are historically elect, but not vice versa.

    3. As such, historical election is a mirror of eternal election. God elects Israel by grace, as he elects believers eternally by grace. He promises blessings to them which are essentially the blessings of salvation, ultimately the presence with them of the living God. God’s covenant presence with Israel in the tabernacle and temple is an image of his presence with eternally elect believers in Christ.

    4. We may think of historical election as the visible and temporal form of eternal election. We cannot see another’s heart to know for sure whether he is eternally elect. But we can see whom God has led to unite with his visible body, the church. We can see who has given a credible profession of faith in Christ. By observing the process of historical election in the light of Scripture we gain a limited knowledge of eternal election—the best knowledge possible for us today.

    5. Those who join the church are historically elect, in the way that Israel was historically elect. It is possible for people in the church to apostatize, to renounce their profession. Church membership, therefore, does not guarantee membership in the new covenant. But the church is a new covenant institution in that it proclaims God’s eternal election in Christ and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ atonement. In that sense, Israel also was a new covenant institution. So the Book of Hebrews reminds its Jewish Christian readers of the new covenant to which they are called, and it also warns them not to fall away as did Israel in the wilderness.” (pp. 329-30)

  4. JR, when you say “God desires to bring healing and wholeness to all humanity, through particular humans whom he calls,” are you suggesting a universalistic view of salvation? Just curious…

  5. JR Woodward says:


    Good clarifying question. I’m suggesting that God loves all, has died for all, and desire all to come to repentance. Jesus said that hell was made for the Devil and his angels. So God’s heart is for all. I have a universal hope, but my understanding is that both the strong calvinist and the evangelical universalist actually both give stronger weight to the sovereignty of God, and little to no weight on human choice and response to God’s grace. I believe humans have a genuine choice to make, and the “love wins” because love involves choice. A German pietist once said, “Anyone who does not [hope for] believe in universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass”. I think he is right. I also would agree with Hans Shwartz that “Only those who are already in this life connected with eternity in time, with Jesus Christ” can have assurance, and “even in our most sincere concern for them [unbelievers], we have to acknowledge the ultimate hiddeness of God, a God who is beyond justice and love. At this point we can only hope without knowing for sure that his never ending grace will ultimately prevail” (Schwartz 2000:396,7). To learn more about my thoughts, you might find my assessment on “Love Wins” helpful: http://jrwoodward.net/2011/03/divided-by-hell-an-assessment-of-love-wins-by-rob-bell-heresy-orthodoxy-final-judgment-part-i/

    Thanks for your question, what is your thoughts?

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