The following, the final in a three-article series, was penned by a friend of the ministry, Dale. W. Decker. You can find him at the Theogineer. Thank you, Dale.
Unconditional Election: Is Jesus the Press Secretary for God?
The job of press secretary many times appears to be providing political camouflage for a president by obfuscating the truth of what is happening in an administration. Deflective statements, half answers, and misleading information are the tools of the trade. Calvinism’s doctrine of Unconditional Election, if true, renders the core of Jesus’ ministry a misinformation campaign worthy of any savvy administration.
Jesus told Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.” What truth is he bearing witness to? The truth his Father in heaven sent him into the world to proclaim. Jesus told the people, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak… I say as the Father has told me.” And Jesus affirms that what his Father says is the truth – “…your word is truth.” (John 18:37, John 12:49-50, John 17:19, ESV)
Therefore, we would expect that at the core of Jesus’s ministry would be a declaration of the truth of God without any double-talk, misdirection, half-truths, or serious omissions. Right? And I think Jesus’s “I Am” statements are a good representation of the core of his ministry, so let’s take a look at some of them.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. John 6:47-51 (ESV)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12 (ESV)
Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:7–9 (ESV)
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? John 11:25–26 (ESV)
In these four statements, Jesus is declaring the truth of salvation in and through himself. He is the provider of what is needed – life, light, acceptance, resurrection. This is the truth he has heard from his Father and has been sent into the world to proclaim.
In addition, in each of these declarations, there is also a statement of reciprocation – who is to be the recipient of this provision. The recipient is identified as the one who trusts in the provision of Jesus for salvation. Whoever believes in me, whoever follows me, if anyone enters by me – a plain reading indicates that only a trusting response is required to be the recipient of Jesus’s provision.
Unless Calvinism is true. Calvinism includes the belief that God has pre-selected (unconditionally elected) those who will be permitted to respond to the provision of Jesus. Here’s how John Piper defines this idea:
Unconditional election is God’s free choice before creation, not based on foreseen faith, to which traitors he will grant faith and repentance, pardoning them and adopting them into his everlasting family of joy.5
If Calvinism is true, then those whom God has not selected, those to whom God will not grant faith, can never respond to the truths Jesus has revealed about himself in the four “I am” statements. However, the phrasing that Jesus uses, on a plain reading of the text, seems to indicate that anyone can respond. If Calvinism is true, then Jesus is being less than truthful to those who hear him.
Now I’ve heard that in saying “whoever believes” Jesus is not giving any indication of who it will actually be who believes. So, he’s not really being dishonest. Yet if he’s saying “whoever” and “if anyone” but all the while he knows that it’s only the elect who will be granted the ability to believe, then by leaving that detail out he is obfuscating the truth, not bearing witness to the truth.
Perhaps an illustration would be helpful at this point. Suppose I am throwing a party and I send out an invitation to every house in the neighborhood. The invitation says on the front “I am throwing a party at my house, whoever wants to can come. Anyone who receives this invitation can come.” When they open the invitations, they are written in a secret code rendering them unable to read the time and location of the party so that they could come. Unbeknownst to my neighbors, the part I don’t tell them, is that only to a select few I also sent with the invitation the secret decoder ring they need to read the time and location of the party. Is my “whoever wants to can come” invitation truthful?
Before you begin to pick apart my illustration as not accurately representing the condition of mankind after the fall – remember I’m concerned with the truthfulness of the invitation, not the condition of the recipients. Whether or not they want to come or can come, etc. is not what’s in question. Am I being truthful by saying “anyone” when I have predetermined it not to truly be anyone? No, I am not being truthful. Therefore, if the Calvinistic tenet of unconditional election is true, then the core of Jesus’s ministry is a misinformation campaign because it obfuscates the truth.
Sailing On The Good Ship TEP – Traditional Extensivist Provisionism
I am indebted to many theologians and pastors in the New Reformed movement for parts of my theological education. But I simply can’t get on board with Calvinism as the best system for understanding biblical doctrine. Any valid system of theology must give way to the plain reading of scripture when there is a conflict. Any valid system of theology must support, not call into question, the orthodox understanding of Christ’s person and work. Any valid system of theology must have an understanding of humanity as created in the image of God, though with a fallen nature, that fits with how we actually experience life. In attempting to square parts of its soteriological precepts with scripture, Calvinism seems to me to undercut the authority of the Bible, to muddle the concept of the Incarnation, and to render life meaningless.
I am very grateful for the work of Soteriology 101 and the resources it brings into the debate with Calvinism. Whether you call it Traditionalism as does the SBC, or Extensivism as does Pastor Ronnie Rogers, or Provisionism as does Dr. Leighton Flowers, it is this soteriological system that promotes the Father’s love, Christ’s sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s drawing power most closely aligns with the biblical record.