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What Are Election and Predestination? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith) Paperback – November 13, 2006
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"The Basics of the Faith series of booklets provides us with brief, clear, accurate and edifying introductions to key aspects of Christian life and experience. They are biblically sound, well researched, and written by faithful pastor-teachers." --Ligon Duncan
About the Author
Richard D. Phillips (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. He is a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and coeditor of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.
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While the booklet is easy-to-read and short, I was hoping that even in this cursory examination of the doctrines that Phillips would explore the opposing position and not merely the fallacies commonly leveled against this position. I've enjoyed every booklet in this series and this one is no exception, but it really wasn't as helpful or informative as I had hoped.
All Christians, regardless of their educational, social, spiritual, or cultural background, are theologians. The issue is whether the theology they have is in harmony with the consensus (the whole) of the Bible.
When Christians strongly believe in a denominational doctrine, they appeal to the jargon, “The Bible says what it means and it means what it says” to persuade others, as well as themselves, of the validity of such doctrine. However, any intelligent and well-educated individual, who studies the Bible seriously, will conclude that there are obscure verses that are very hard to understand. Nehemiah 8:8 (NASB) says, “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating [explaining] to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” If the Bible means what it says and says what it means, then Nehemiah 8:8 is a verse that does not need to be in the Bible.
The following are some of those obscure verses:
• “I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, ‘The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.’” ~ Romans 11:25-26 (NLT)
• “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7 (NASB)
• “But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.” ~ 1 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)
When authors appeal to the belief that what they teach or preach is the Bible’s teaching and not man’s teaching, then, how do they expect others to know the differences between the two teachings? Mr. Phillips believes that what he is presenting about election is right out of the Bible. If that is the case, why are there so many views on the doctrine of election doctrine?
On page 9, the author states, “As Christians, we are bound and obliged before God to accept what is plainly taught in God’s holy Word, and upon inspection we will find that Scripture redundantly and forcefully sets forth the doctrine of election.”
The issue is whether the Bible plainly teaches the doctrine of election as Christian leaders preach it or teach it. Another issue is not whether the doctrine of election is biblical, for it is; the issue is whether the interpretation of it is in accordance with the consensus or the whole of the Bible.
For example, tithing is biblical because it is in the Bible. However, the issue is whether tithing is binding under the New Covenant. Just because Jesus spoke of tithing in Matthew 23:23 in the New Testament section of the Bible, does not mean that tithing is applicable to New Testament believers.
Those that hold on to the doctrine of election, appeal to Romans 9. This chapter is the sacred cow for the doctrine of election, it seems. They often deny that humans have free will. Christians must understand that God does as He pleases, that is why He is sovereign. However, when God chose Pharaoh, in this chapter, God did not choose him to damn him but as the means for God to display His power and to spread His fame. It had nothing to do with the election for salvation or damnation.
The belief that God chooses some people over others for salvation goes against the following verses:
• “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’” ~ Ezekiel 18:23 (NASB)
• “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” ~ Ezekiel 18:32 (NKJV)
• “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” ~ John 3:16-17 (NASB)
• “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ~ 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NASB)
• “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” ~ 1 John 2:2 (NLT)
Looking at these verses, we can plainly conclude that 1) God loved the world, NOT the elect; 2) Jesus is the One that atones for the sins of the world NOT just the elect; 3) God desires to save all people; and 4) God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
Aristotle said, “It is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be.” By looking at the whole of the Bible, it would be impossible to believe that God does not have pleasure in the death of the wicked while at the same time predestine some people to eternal damnation before the foundation of the world.
If God has, before the foundation of the world, predestined some people for salvation and others for perdition, then how will God righteously judge those that refused to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior when He already predestined them for perdition? It makes no theological sense in light of the biblical portrait of God, not only as a righteous Judge, but also as a merciful and gracious God.
Predestination has two branches: 1) Election and 2) Reprobation. Those that hold on to election (as they see it), overlook other verses that contradict their view on election. Another reason they strongly believe in their view on election is that they themselves believe part of the elect. These individuals have never met anyone belonging to the reprobate group. There are individuals within Christian groups that believe they cannot identify other Christians, though they can spot people that need redemption.
The doctrine of election as some Christians present it places the whole responsibility of salvation on God alone. These Christians believe they can never depart from the living God. In other words, because they made a decision back in 1958, they believe they will make it even if at one point in their walk with God they become lukewarm. In addition, they also believe that those that did not endure to the end were people that God did not truly save. Furthermore, they believe they will endure because they were sincere when they pledged to follow Jesus after they have believed Romans 10, verses 9 & 10.
The author appeals to John 15, verse 16 as “one of the plainest statement of election.” In its entirety, the verse reads (NASB), “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” The challenge with this verse as a foundation for election as the author presents it (not the Bible) is that Judas was part of the election and yet Peter seems to believe that Judas went to a place in which is not there. Of Judas, Peter said (Acts 1:17 ~ NASB), “For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” Peter portraits Judas as an individual that resembles the individual in Hebrews chapter 6, verses 4-6 (NASB), which reads, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
However, Peter says the following about Judas in Acts 1, verses 24 & 25 (NASB), “And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’”
In order to accommodate their understanding of the election doctrine, some Christians believe, with unwavering conviction, that Judas was never saved. Jesus said that those that persevere would be saved; He did not say that those that are saved would persevere. Yet, if we look at the Exodus story, we can plainly see that God saved the whole nation of Israel (refer to the Book of Jude). However, God, the same God that saved them all, destroyed those that did not remain faithful.
In page 11, the author believes and promotes the view that “election promotes humility and not pride.” He also states in page 12, “The doctrine says that unless salvation is wholly of God, then I could not be saved, so great is my sin and enmity to the things of God.” However, let us notice this is what the doctrine of election, as the author sees it, says and not as the Bible teaches it. It does not promote humility because God, concerning the salvation of the world, does not choose some for perdition while at the same time being willing that ALL people come to the knowledge of the truth. It is pride in humility’s clothing.
The Bible plainly portraits salvation as an event (justification), process (sanctification), and as the reward of the faithful (glorification). For God to justify the sinner, God draws such individual to Him by means of the Spirit of God. The responsibility of the sinner is to place his/her faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God justifies those that believe. Once God justifies the sinner, it is the responsibility of the new saint to cooperate with the Spirit of God in the process of conforming himself/herself into the image of Jesus Christ. His/her faithfulness, along with God’s mercy and grace, will result in him/her receiving the crown of life.
Election does not promote holiness but a license to sin. Since I did not have anything to do with election, why seek holiness? Hebrews 12:14 (NASB) states, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Notice that the pursuing or seeking of peace AND holiness is the part of the believer. Just because it is the will of God for all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, that does not mean that all people will come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. In like manner, just because God’s will is the sanctification of His saints does not mean that they will attain holiness as if something automatic. The doctrine of holiness, as the author portraits it is one that God will make His people holy even against their will.
The view this author promotes about the doctrine of election is a dangerous one because those that hold this position distort the warnings in Romans 11, 1st Corinthians 10, and all the other warnings contained in the Book of Hebrews. In order to fir their view on the doctrine of election, they have to violate the plain sense of the verses of the Book of Romans, 1st Corinthians, and Hebrews. They also violate the salvation theology that the story of the Exodus contains, which is parallel to the salvation doctrine under the New Covenant.
It is impossible to be a student of the Bible and agree with all of the denominational doctrines we hold dear.
Phillips rightly notes that election takes place before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The author makes a strong case for the covenant of redemption where the Father and Son come into covenant in eternity past. The Son voluntarily agrees to redeem the elect of God by dying on the cross. The Father in turn, promises the Son the salvation of all the elect, those whom he chose in eternity past.
The author is quick to point out that the doctrine of election is not derived from the pen of a theologian. Rather this doctrine is the teaching of God. He cites numerous Scriptures to bolster his point and argues that since this doctrine emerges in Scripture, God's people must receive it.
Since some people maintain that the doctrine of election leads to pride, Phillips seeks to press home the opposite point, namely, this doctrine in reality leads to humility. He cites A.W. Pink approvingly: "The truth of God's sovereignty ... removes every ground for human boasting and instills the spirit of humility in its stead. It declares that salvation is of the Lord - of the Lord in its origination, in its operation, and in its consummation ... And all this is most humbling to the heart of man, who wants to contribute something to the price of his redemption and do that which will afford ground for boasting and self-satisfaction."
Another typical objection to the doctrine of election is that it promotes lazy Christians. Phillips eagerly notes that nothing could be further from the truth. Again he leads the reader to numerous Scripture reference that lead the believer to the pursuit of holiness. He cites Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "Because we have been chosen to holiness we must and will become holy ... According to Paul we are not chosen with the possibility of holiness, but to the realization of holiness ... Being `chosen' and being `holy' are inseparable ... God, who has chosen you to holiness, will make you holy ..."
Some may hold that the doctrine of election leads to presumption. However, Phillips maintains that election actually promotes and encourages assurance. "If we can say to God," writes Phillips, "that we trust in Jesus, then God tells us that our faith is grounded on the solid rock of his eternal election ... Election gives assurance not to unbelief but to faith; it provides God-given confidence of our security in the sovereign grace of God." Ultimately, the doctrine of elections give glory to God, the glory that rightly belongs to him alone.
Phillips rightly makes a contrast between election and predestination. "God elects persons and predestines things." It is in this context that the author refutes the so-called notion of election according to foreknowledge. He adds, "But this concept (election according to foreknowledge) nullifies the very idea of election; it renders pointless the teaching that Paul is so clearly trying to convey, namely, that salvation rests on God's own character and purpose."
The author includes a brief section that addresses the issue of God's sovereignty and human responsibility - both of which are taught in God's Word. Phillips writes, "The Bible asserts both predestination and human responsibility without reconciling them, and we must be willing to leave it at that." These twin truths are not, as some have supposed, "parallel lines that meet in eternity." At this point, we must simply embrace both biblical realities and be comfortable with mystery.
The section on predestination responds to the two primary arguments that are advanced by our Arminian friends, namely, that predestination is unfair and it is incompatible with human responsibility. Phillips argues against these notions in a winsome and theologically precise way. James Boice is helpful here: "It is not justice we want from God; it is grace. And grace cannot be commanded. It must flow to us from God's sovereign purposes decreed before the foundation of the world, or it must not come at all."
Richard Phillips has written an excellent defense of the doctrine of election and predestination. He fairly and graciously overcomes the arguments that are so typical in a debate where one experiences more heat than light. I highly recommend this resource to those who struggle with this doctrine as well as the convinced.
There is a strong movement in America that is returning to our Reformed theological roots. Richard Phillips' short treatment of this subject serves as a basic introduction to the doctrines of grace and should be utilized by anyone who struggles (as I did for over two years) with these doctrines. A more comprehensive treatment may be found in John Murray's, Redemption Accomplished and Applied and Lorraine Boettner's, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. See also Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul and The Pleasures of God by John Piper.
Soli Deo Gloria!