By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
The theme of this posting is this: “A Good Alternative To Calvinism’s Doctrines Of Election And Calling.” It is a minor revision of an earlier post about the subject. At that time, I quoted from a used copy of H. C. Thiessen’s book of lectures on systematic theology. I have since happily learned that it is now back in print. Here is a link to the reprint of the original: http://www.lifelineprinting.com/thiessen_henry_c_lectures_in_systematic_theology.htm
Many fine Christians of the past were Calvinists, and many fine Christians today are Calvinists. Some of them from long ago promoted Calvinism through their sermons, books and pamphlets, and some in more recent times have done so, and are doing so, through literature, radio, TV, and the internet. All of these means have influenced many persons to become Calvinists. And these Calvinists believe that Calvinism is the only legitimate interpretation of the Bible, at least with respect to their distinctive doctrines. On some other Biblical subjects they often hold the same views as many other Bible-believing Christians. A common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ enables Calvinists and non-Calvinists to enjoy warm Christian fellowship with one another.
But, Calvinism should not be considered the final word when it comes to interpreting certain doctrines found in the Bible. Therefore, what follows is presented as a good alternative to Calvinism’s doctrines of election and calling.The following material on these doctrines is the entire 23rd chapter in H. C. Thiessen’s original book, “Lectures in Systematic Theology.” The book was out of print, and a revision of it was made. Unfortunately, the revision does not represent Thiessen’s views on this subject, and perhaps on others, too. The revision is Calvinistic in doctrine, while the original book was not.
The dust jacket of my used copy of the book says this about the author, H. C. Thiessen: “Former chairman of the faculty of the Wheaton College Graduate School, Dr. Thiessen was one of the foremost evangelical scholars in the land. His Lectures In Systematic Theology has been widely read among students of theology and used in many seminaries.”
Here is the endorsement of Thiessen’s Systematic Theology found on the dust jacket of the book: “Thiessen has produced a monumental work which will be of help in the field of one-volume theologies. The work is well-indexed and its contents are readily accessible. It deserves a place in every minister’s library. —Bibliotheca Sacra.”
Here is chapter 23 of Thiessen’s book on theology. It is presented as a Biblical alternative to Calvinism’s view of these subjects. It is in bold print so it is easy to distinguish it from the rest of this article..
“In treating election and calling as the application of Christ’s redemption, we imply that they are, in God’s decree, logically subsequent to the decree of redemption. But even so, several views of the order of the decrees are possible. Sublapsarianism holds that the decrees are in this order: 1. the decree to create, 2. the decree to permit the fall, 3. the decree to provide salvation sufficient for all, 4. the decree to secure the acceptance of this salvation by some, or the decree of election. This view holds to an unlimited atonement and to irresistible grace. The infralapsarian view agrees in the first two points, but makes 3 the decree to provide salvation for the elect. It is evident that this view holds both to a limited atonement and to irresistible grace. Hyper-Calvinism holds what is known as Supralapsarianism. According to this view the order of the decrees is as follows: 1. the decree to save some, 2. the decree to create both those who are to be saved and those who are to be reprobated, 3. the decree to permit (some would say, effectually to secure) the fall of both groups, and 4. the decree to provide salvation only for the former, that is, the elect. It may be said that Calvin gives some ground for this view. John Calvin, Op. cit, III, 23, 5. But compare this with another statement where he says: ‘Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordering, but by his own fault.’ Ibid, III, 23, 8. In later life Calvin accepted the unlimited theory of the atonement. How else, for instance, could we explain his comment on 1 John 2:2, which is as follows: ‘ Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction, His blood being shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race; for although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God, yet he holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception He summons all to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than the door unto hope.’ Quoted by Strong, Op. cit., p. 778.
I. The Doctrine of Election
Our own view is a modification of the Sublapsarian conception. We believe that the decrees are in this order: 1. the decree to create, 2. the decree to permit the fall, 3. the decree to provide salvation for all, and, 4. the decree to apply that salvation to some, to those who believe. This view naturally affects our definition of election, to which we now turn.
1. The Definition of Election. By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace whereby he chose in Christ Jesus for salvation all those he foreknew would accept him. This is election in its redemptive aspect. The Scriptures also speak of an election to outward privileges (Luke 6:13, Judas; Acts 13:17; Rom. 9:4; 11:28, Israel) to sonship (Eph. 1;4, 5; Rom. 8:29, 33), and to a particular office (Moses and Aaron, Ps. 105:26; David, 1 Sam. 16:12; 20:30; Solomon, 1 Chron. 28:5; and the Apostles, Luke 6:13 – 16; John 6:70; Acts 1:2, 24; 9:15; 22:14). But we are here concerned with election as related to salvation, and so we analyze the above definition more fully.
(1) Election and Foreknowledge. Election is a sovereign act of God; He was under no obligation to elect anyone, since all had lost their standing before God. Even after Christ had died, God was not obliged to apply that salvation, except as He owed it to Christ to keep the agreement with him as to man’s salvation. Election is a sovereign act, because it was not due to any constraint laid upon God. It was an act in grace, in that He chose those who were utterly unworthy of salvation. Man deserved the exact opposite; but in His grace God chose to save some. He chose them ‘in Christ.’ He could not choose them in themselves because of their ill-desert; so He chose them in the merits of another. Furthermore, He chose those who He foreknew would accept Christ. The Scriptures definitely base God’s election on His foreknowledge: ‘Whom he foreknew, he also foreordained,…and whom He foreordained, them He also called’ (Rom. 8:29, 30); ‘to the elect… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Pet. 1: 1, 2). Although we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines His choice, the repeated teaching of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation necessitates our postulating that it is man’s reaction to the revelation that God has made of himself that is the basis of His election. May we repeat: Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation-bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. There is no merit in this transaction, as Buswell has clearly shown in his allegory of the captain who is beaten into unconsciousness by the crew on the deck of his vessel, if that captain is revived by restoratives and then accepts the proffered leadership of a captain from another vessel who has come to his rescue. J. O. Buswell, Sin And Atonement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Brothers, 1937), pp. 112 – 114.
(2) Election and Predestination. Something should here be said about the terms ‘predestination’ and ‘foreordination.’ ‘Predestination’ occurs in the Authorized Version only at Romans 8:29, 30, and ‘predestinated’ only at Eph. 1;5, 11. The American Standard Version translates all four of these by ‘foreordained.’ The A. V. has the term ‘foreordained’ in 1 Pet. 1:20, but the A. S. V. correctly changes this to ‘foreknown.’ Fortunately, the words ‘foreordained’ and ‘predestinated’ mean the same thing. Scofield’s definition of predestination is, therefore, also the definition of foreordination. He defines the former as ‘that effective exercise of the will of God by which things determined beforehand are brought to pass.’ Scofield, Op. cit., p. 1250. As applied to redemption, this would mean that in election God has decided to save those who would accept His Son and the proffered salvation, and in foreordination He has determined effectively to accomplish that purpose.
2. The Proof of This View of Election. In the minds of some people, election is a choice that God makes for which we can see no reason and which we can hardly harmonize with His justice. We are asked to accept the theory of ‘unconditional election’ as true but unexplainable in spite of the fact that the persistent demand of the heart is for a theory of election that does commend itself to our sense of justice and that harmonizes the teaching of Scripture concerning the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Let us submit the following in proof of the definition of election we have suggested.
(1) Because Election is Based on Foreknowledge. This is in accord with Scripture (Rom. 8:28 – 30; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2. To say that God foreknew all things because He had arbitrarily determined all things, is to ignore the distinction between God’s efficient and His permissive decrees. Certainly only few who hold the view of ‘unconditional election’ would teach that God is the efficient cause of sin; practically all would agree that God merely permitted sin to enter the universe, and all would admit that he foresaw that it would enter, before He ever created anything. If, then, God could foresee that sin would enter the universe without efficiently decreeing that it should enter, than He can also foresee how men will act, without efficiently decreeing how they shall act. God is not limited in the carrying out of His plans, except as he has limited Himself by the choices of man. He knew before He created how far man would depart from holiness, and who would thus depart; and in the light of this knowledge He thought it well to create man and to permit such a departure from the right way. God’s plan with regard to sin will be fully realized, in the sense that He has foreseen what would happen and has decided to let it happen. There is here no contradiction between the terms decrees, foreknowledge, and election.
(2) Because Christ Died for All Men. As we have seen under the Death of Christ, our Lord died in a real sense for all. See again 1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Pet. 2:1; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2. In harmony with this is His expressed desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves and live’ (Ezek. 18:32). With this agree also the many invitations to all. Surely, these are not mockery, — invitations that in the case of some that will be backed up by God’s efficient work of regeneration, and in the case of others be held out as glorious opportunities that can neither be appreciated nor appropriated for lack of God’s efficient assistance.
(3) Because of the Justice of God. It is admitted that God is under no obligation to provide salvation for any one, since all are responsible for their present lost condition. It is also admitted that God is not obliged actually to save anyone even though Christ has provided salvation for all men. But it is difficult to see how God can choose some from the mass of guilty and condemned men, provide salvation for them and efficiently secure their salvation, and do nothing about all the others, if, as we read, righteousness is the foundation of His throne. God would not be partial if He permitted all men to go to their deserved doom; but how can He be other than partial if He selects some from this multitude of men and does things for them and in them that He refuses to do for others, if there is not something about the two classes that makes the difference? We hold that common grace is extended to all, and that everyone has the ability restored to him to ‘will to do his will.’ The salvation-bearing grace of God has appeared to all men; but some receive the grace of God in vain. It seems to us that only if God makes the same provisions for all and makes the same offers to all, is He truly just. Someone may object that Jesus speaks of the unequal opportunities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, as compared with those of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:21 – 23); but to this we reply, that God is under no obligation to perform supernatural works among men to induce them to repent, but He did this during the earthly life of Christ for the proof of His deity, which proof was intended for all generations to come, and the privilege afforded the generation then living was incidental and not an act of partiality. We may also say that the responsibility for the opportunities presented to a people must rest, in part at least, upon the people of God, who have been commissioned to carry out the Gospel to every creature (Ezek. 3:17 – 19).
(4) Because It Inspires Missionary Activity. Acceptance of this view of election tends logically to great missionary endeavor. Christ sent His disciples into all the world, and He instructed them to preach the Gospel to every creature. If, then, election means that all those whom God has arbitrarily chosen will certainly get to heaven, and that all those whom He has not chosen will certainly not get there, no matter how faithfully and frequently the Gospel may be preached to them, then why be greatly agitated about it? True, we have the command to take the Gospel into all the world; but if only some are thus ‘elected,’ why be greatly disturbed about it? Furthermore, how shall the servant of Christ keep up his courage in a difficult field, if men are thus ‘elected’ or not chosen? Perhaps there is no one in the hard field that belongs to the favored few! It is easiest to conclude that further effort is in vain and that one had just as well stop and go elsewhere. But both Scripture and experience testify, that often fruit appears only after many years of prayer and effort. Wells says that Morrison had to labor seven years before the first Chinese convert, Tsai-A-Ko was baptized. Amos R. Wells, Into All The World (Boston: United Soc. of Chr. Endeavor, 1903), p. 70.
3. Objections to this View of Election. It is perhaps impossible to so state this doctrine of election as to do away with all possible objections. The view we have here expounded has fewer objections than any other, and best commends itself in light of what we know of the righteousness and holiness of God on the one hand, and of human responsibility on the other. We note, however, briefly such objections as have been brought against it.
(1) The Simpler Objections. The simpler ones are mentioned first. (a) There is the recurring declaration that certain men have been given to Christ (John 6:37; 17:2, 6, 9), and it is thus assumed that this was an arbitrary act of God by which the rest were left to perish. But we reply that it is nowhere indicated what caused God to give certain men to Christ and not others. In the light of God’s revealed character, it is more probable that He did this because of what He foresaw they would do, than merely to exercise sovereign authority. (b) There is further the statement that no man can come to Christ, ‘except the Father… draw him’ (John 6:44). But in John 12:32 Jesus says, that when he is lifted up from the earth, He will ‘draw all men’ to Himself. It is interesting to note that in both references we have the same Greek word (helkuo). It is used of drawing a net (John 21:6, 11) and a sword (John 18:10), and of dragging a person forcibly, against his will (Acts 21:30; 16:19; Jas. 2:6). We conclude that from the cross of Christ there issues a power that goes out to all men, though many continue to resist that power.
There are others of the same kind. (c) There is the declaration that God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). It is assumed there is nothing a sinner can do until God does these things in him. But the mistake is in applying this text to the unsaved. Paul had been telling the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling; and he encourages them to attempt it by the assurance that God will work all these things in them. Jesus plainly said to some of the Jews: ‘Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life’ (John 5:40), clearly implying that they could if they would. (d) Then in Romans 9:11 – 16 God is said to have chosen Jacob rather than Esau, even before they were born and before they had done either good or bad. But two things should be noted here. Though it is said that they had not yet done either good or bad, it is not said that God did not know who would do the good and who would do the bad. Esau consistently chose the ‘profane’ things of life, and Jacob, though far from constant in the things of God in his early life, chose the more spiritual things. And further, the choice of Jacob rather than Esau was at most a choice to outward and national privilege; it was not a choice to salvation directly. No doubt God, in foreseeing that Jacob and his descendents would much more fully than Esau and his descendents choose the things of spiritual value, chose Jacob for the covenant relationship which he and his descendents later came to enjoy. That this is the meaning of God’s choice of Jacob is evident from the fact that Scripture itself declares that not all the descendents of Israel (Jacob) are Israel, and not all the children of Abraham are children of promise. A descendent of Esau could, no doubt, be saved as readily as a descendent of Jacob.
(2) The More Difficult Objections. Several other objections are more difficult to meet. (a) Thus we read in Acts 13:48: ‘And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ Knowling shows that this cannot refer to an absolute decree, for in vs. 46 Paul had already declared that the Jews by their own choice rejected the message, and he cannot mean that other than individual choice decided the question of appointment (esan tetagmenoi) God had ordained those who would believe. (b) Again, Eph. 1:5 – 8; 2:8 – 10 represent salvation as originating in the choice of God and as being all of grace. But that is not in contradiction to the view we are setting forth. God must take the initiative, and He does take it. If it were not for the operation of His grace upon the heart of the sinner, no man could be saved. It is hardly necessary to repeat that prevenient grace does not save a man, –it merely enables him to choose whom he will serve. (c) In the third place we are reminded that repentance and faith are the gift of God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25; Eph. 2:8 – 10; Rom. 12:3). To this we reply that it would seem very strange if God should call upon all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9) and believe (Mark 1:14, 15), when only some may receive the gift of repentance and faith. (d) And finally, some claim that if predestination is not unconditional and absolute, then God’s whole plan is uncertain and liable to miscarriage. His plan is certain, though not all the events in it are necessitated.
II. The Doctrine of Vocation.
This is the doctrine of God’s call. The grace of God is magnified, not only in the provision of salvation, but also in the offer of salvation to the undeserving. We may define God’s call as that act of grace by which He invites men to accept by faith the salvation provided by Christ. Strong distinguishes between God’s general or external call to all men, and His special, efficacious call to the elect. Op cit., p. 791. But if our conception of election is correct, there is no just ground for such a distinction. We, therefore, follow a simple Biblical outline of the subject.
1. The Persons Called. The Scriptures indicate that salvation is offered to all. it is offered to the ‘predestinated’ (Rom. 8:30), to all that ‘labor and are heavy laden’ (Matt. 11:28), to ‘whosoever believes,’ etc. (John 3:15, 16; 4:14; 11:26; Rev. 22:17), to ‘all the ends of the earth,’ Isa. 45;22; Ezek. 33:11; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:14; John 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), and to ‘as many as ye shall find’ (Matt. 22:9). In the light of these passages we dare not distinguish between a general call to all and a special call to the elect. Nor need we decide if God’s general call is sincere or if His special call is irresistible. God does not mock men. If He offers salvation to all, then he desires to save all, and to extend the same help to all who choose him. Man’s will is the only obstacle to the salvation of anyone. God does not give one man the will to do good and leave the other without all help in this respect.
2. The Object of The Call. Briefly stated, God does not call men to reformation of life, to good works, to baptism, to church membership, etc. These are all proper things in themselves, but they are merely the fruit of that to which He does call men. The things to which He calls men are repentance (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:14 ,15; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9) and faith (Mark 1:15; John 6:29; 20:30, 31; Acts 16:31; 19:4; Rom. 10:9; 1 John 3:23). May we repeat: God does not call upon anyone to do anything he cannot do or for which He is not anxious to give man help in doing.
3. The Means of The Call. God has a variety of means by which to call men. There is first of all His Word. (a) He calls men through the Word of God directly (Rom. 10:16, 17; 2 Thess. 2:14). That is why it is necessary to get the Bible into all parts of the world. (b) Then he also calls men by His Spirit (John 16:8; Gen. 6:3; Heb. 3:7, 8). The Holy Spirit urges the sinner to come and accept Christ. (c) Further, He calls men through His servants (2 Chron 36:15; Jer. 25:4; Matt. 22:2 – 4, 9; Rom. 10:14, 15). Jonah is a good example of His use of human messengers to bring a city to repentance. The Word of God must be brought to the unsaved by regenerated persons, persons who can testify to the power of that Word in their own lives. (d) And finally, He calls by His providential dealings with men. His goodness is intended to bring men to repentance (Rom. 2:4; Jer. 31:3), but if that does not succeed, then His judgments are to do it (Isa. 26:9; Ps. 107:6, 13).”
Here is a link to a very interesting article about Thiessen’s opposition to Calvinism: