A Missional View of the Doctrine of Election – Part VI
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.
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. 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.
 Hunsberger, Bearing the Witness of the Spirit, pp. 106,107.