Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Divine Prerogative: A Look At Unconditional Election

I’ve spent quite a significant amount of energy diving into Romans 9 and how it is used regarding the issue of election (whether conditional or unconditional). I’ve made the case that Romans 9 shows the “divine prerogative,” God’s decision to select one and not another. This is right after Paul writes that not all who are of ethnic Israel are of spiritual Israel (Rom. 9:6). Romans 9 shows us that God has the right to select one and not another for His purposes. As a Classical Arminian, I would agree with this. God has the right to do what He pleases.

However---and this is where I must draw the line---God did what He pleased when He sent His Son and proclaimed that faith in Christ would lead to eternal life (John 3:16). And Amyraldians (those who hold to four points of “TULIP” minus “L” for “Limited Atonement”) and Molinists (three-point Calvinists with the exception of “limited atonement” and “irresistible grace”) would affirm this. In the flow of thought with Romans 9-11, we see that faith explains why the Gentiles obtain righteousness and the Jews had not at the time of Paul’s letter (Romans 9:30ff). Confession and belief is the process by which a person would be saved (Rom. 10:9).

Nevertheless, there are times when I get the impression (even from Molinists) that “faith is a work.” I’ve done some posting on Molina and his own comments regarding why he believed foreseen faith could not be the ground of election (see “Molinism” and “middle knowledge” sections on the right). And what was his reason for so thinking? Because he believed the famous verse of Romans 9 regarding the “purpose of election” not being “by works” but by the Lord who calls (Rom. 9:11) implied that faith was a work (so faith couldn’t be the ground of election).

And yet, contemporary Molinists don’t see faith as a work. Ken Keathley writes:

“As Geisler points out, all works are actions, but not all actions are works. Faith is an action in the sense that it involves an act of the will, but IT IS NOT A WORK. We exercise faith to receive redemption for the precise reason that we cannot do anything to earn salvation. FAITH IS NOT A MERITORIOUS DEED. How does receiving a gift make the gift less gracious? The challenge for Calvinists is to demonstrate from Scripture that receiving grace equates to deserving grace” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010, pages 108-109).

In addition, Keathley supplies biblical evidence for his view:

“In a number of places Paul equates ‘by faith’ with ‘by grace.’ For example, in Rom. 4:16 he says ‘the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace.’ Then in Rom. 11:6 he states that if salvation is ‘by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.’ At other times he juxtaposes works-righteousness with the righteousness that is received by faith (Phil. 3:9). In Rom. 10:3-6, Paul contrasts the righteousness that comes through the works of the law with the righteousness obtained by faith. He makes a similar claim in Gal. 2:16, where he says that justification is by faith and not by works. In short, the biblical authors understood faith and works as mutually exclusive opposites” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 109).

Dr. Keathley tells us that faith is not a work, that Calvinists are wrong to make that claim. The biblical evidence goes against it. But if this is the case, then why hold on to unconditional election? The answer is found somewhere in Keathley’s critique of Arminianism:

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation BY PRESENTING GOD’S DECISION CONCERNING INDIVIDUALS AS SOMETHING ENTIRELY PASSIVE. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” pages 141-42).

For those who desire to see my response to this, click on “January” and the title of the post is “Human choices approved.”

All I will say concerning this is the following: Keathley seems to believe that since Arminians argue conditional election, they make God passive in salvation. But we do not; Keathley just has a different idea in mind of God’s active role in salvation than we do. He believes that God has a “sovereign, unconditional manner” (pg. 142) of election, but in what sense is he using the word “unconditional”??? As Robert E. Picirilli notes,

“Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe GOD COULD NOT SOVEREIGNLY ESTABLISH ANY CONDITION HE CHOSE (OR NO CONDITION AT ALL, DID HE SO CHOOSE) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it ONLY ON THE CONDITION, WHICH HE HAS BEEN PLEASED TO IMPOSE’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, and Free Will---Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House, 2002, page 57).

The issue Keathley has with Arminian theology is, “What is meant by the word ‘unconditional’?” If by “unconditional,” Keathley means that God was under no obligation to save anyone, then Classical Arminians agree; if, however, “unconditional” means that God picks and chooses whom He will save (while leaving others to their damnation), then Classical Arminians stand against Molinist theology.

But Keathley himself has argued, as I’ve shown in this post, that faith is not a work (while at the same time stating that faith is a condition for salvation). So, in the end, I think Keathley’s tenet of “Sovereign Election” fits in the Classical Arminian system---God is sovereign, is not bound to save anyone, but does so on faith. Sounds like potential Classical Arminian theology to me...

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