Thursday, September 9

Do I Have a Choice? A Possible Answer

Below is most of an email I sent to my seminary president a few weeks ago. In this communication I lay out what appears to be a balance between total sovereignty (Calvinism) and our ability to choose (free will). 


From my days under your leadership and from your writings, I acknowledge your tireless efforts to translate Calvinism to culture. Whether addressing the "problem of evil" or the questions surrounding divine election and evangelism, you've sought to provide counsel for questioning souls.

That is why I am reaching out to you. I am writing because I have a question and need guidance. Is it not possible that divine election and free will coexist without contradiction in matters of salvation? My studies of the Scripture have led me to a place that I will gladly give up if I can be better taught. I am looking for direction.

What if some were called to represent the King and the message of His kingdom throughout redemptive history (Adam, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, the 12, Paul, etc.)? What if these were part of the scope of election Paul identifies in the epistles? Could God not have set apart and put a box around a specific group that would carry the good news to the nations? And would that not explain how Gentiles are saved by "hearing" (Romans 10, Ephesians 1, etc.)?

My thinking comes from reflection on Ephesians 1. As I study this classic "Reformed" passage I see a clear line of demarcation between those that received specific benefits from God (1:3-12) and those that benefit from the message of those that received said benefits (1:13ff.). A distinction recognized by F.F. Bruce but apparently not applied as far.

This line of demarcation is observed in several ways:
1. By the use of pronouns. The group in Ephesians 1:3-12 are identified in the first person plural. Paul says that "we" and "us" were the beneficiaries of specific callings and gifts (spiritual blessings in heavenly places, chosen, holy and blameless, predestination, revelation of the "mystery", etc.).

Conversely, the group identified in 1:13ff is identified in the second person plural ("you also") and appear to receive the benefits of the message of the first group. In fact, the text says that they are included by means of "hearing" the message of those that God called. This salvation is proved valid by the sealing of the Spirit of God (the very thing God used to show the first Jewish elders that the gospel had gone to the Gentiles in Acts 11:18).

2. By the nature of the gifts received. The first group is the beneficiary of "all" spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. A claim I've often heard preached with disclaimer as to the true understanding of this gift. The scope of these blessings ("all", and "heavenlies") speaks to their special nature and specific recipients. These gifts clearly are for the binding of things in heaven and earth. An authority Jesus said His disciples would demonstrate and in the exercising of this power by His team, the one thing we are told gave Jesus "great joy".

3. By the time stamp. Paul identifies that the first group were, "the first to hope in Christ" (v.12) which further implies a line of separation from the "you also" in vs. 13.

4. By the model of the OT. This is the common pattern of God in the OT. He elects, calls and sets apart a man (or woman) for Himself to represent his chosen nation before the world. This preservation and human representation would ultimately be realized in Abraham's Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.

5. By the ministry of Jesus. His election of the 12 is a marker that this NT gospel is tied to an OT process. These were they that He prayed all night before selecting. These are they that He made sure the Father had selected (and was apparently surprised when one was in the other camp). These are they that would walk with Jesus for some 2 years. These are they that would need to wait for the coming Spirit (promised in the OT) and that would enable them to do more and greater things than the Son of God Himself performed. These are they that would herald the message of the King to the nations and thus reverse the impact of the Garden and fulfill the promise of Abraham. These are they that would sit on the 12 thrones in heaven. These are the link between the OT calling of Israel and the promise of Abraham to the nations. This was the specific focus of Jesus on earth.

6. By math. In math class we learned, "If A = B and B = C, then A = C". Using this line of logic, I offer this final "proof" for a line of demarcation between the first called Jewish followers of Christ and those that will believe on their message and be saved.

A = Predestination (1:3-12): Paul makes clear that there is a special called group that have been predestined by God.

B = Inclusion (1:9): Those who were predestined were also given blessings, all wisdom, understanding of the "mystery" of God's will, etc.

C = Identification (3:3:5): Those who received the "mystery" are identified by Paul as "holy apostles and prophets".

A = C: Those who were predestined received the mystery and those who received the mystery are identified as "holy apostles and prophets". Therefore, those who are predestined are "holy apostles and prophets".

I am not a math expert nor am I a "holy apostles and prophets" expert. I am not even sure how tight that box is. That said, it is clear that some line of demarcation exists in the mind of Paul between the first group identified by "us" (1:3-12) and the second group identified by "you also" (1:13ff.).

If you allow this line of thinking to carry out to application it raises a new set of questions but also answers many stubborn, lingering questions that reformed theology has been unable to answer (God and evil, will of man, evangelism, God's love for the lost, etc.).

I am sorry if this is too long or even unclear at certain points. I am trying to be brief with things that could take books to develop.

I will gladly let these thoughts go if my conscience can be satisfied. I shared these thoughts with a professor at Cal Lutheran a number of years ago. His reply was interesting, "This is pretty compelling. If what you are saying was even remotely true then we will need to rewrite 500 years worth of books."

I respectfully submit these thoughts to you. I seek truth, not as interpreted by a man 500 years ago but as represented in the whole of Scripture.
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  1. Let me start by saying I know that I don't read God's word enough, so often someone has a point that is based on scripture that I don't realize. With that said, can you please help me know what passage this idea comes from, "and was apparently surprised when one was camp."

    Thank you for the insight into that portion of Ephesians. I had not read it that way before, but I think you are right. I submit the following for consideration.
    D = Apostles (us & we in this passage)
    E = the church body (you in the passage)
    A = Predestined
    D=A (from passage) & D=E (both His children, part of his flock)
    Therefore E=A

  2. The reference is in John 6:70. Jesus is referring to the selection of the 12 and yet Judas stepping out of that line. I find it interesting that He chose them after an entire night of prayer and yet one of them did not stay in the camp.

    I am intrigued by your math!!!! Not sure if that works though. The church body is comprised of both the natural grapes and the wild vine (Gentiles) that was grafted in. Throughout Paul's writings these two groups are separated (Romans 1:16 and many more).

    Though both become the "Church" through the work of Christ the means by which they come to this place is quite different.

  3. I don't see that He was surprised in v.70, v.64 shows that That he knew before hand "But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who would betray him."

    I agree, I am not sure my math works as well. It crossed my mind that it becomes difficult to apply simple mathematical rules (meant for numbers) to people (much more faceted & complex than numbers). Praise God, it is a testament to how amazing He the creator is.

  4. Hey, Man. I enjoyed reading this written version of your argument. Since the first time you presented this to me, I have been digging in this passage off and on. The more I have read through this, the more I have dug into scripture, and the more convinced I have become that those 500 years of books your professor referred to may have fallen to the Truth of a much older Book. This is compelling.

  5. Thinking through the flow of Scripture yields great fruit.

    So often we are content to be New Testament folks to the exclusion of the Old.
    Worse still is the art of selecting key passages from The NT with no
    regard for context. Wost of all is lifting one verse from a passage
    without regard for the whole.

    We love to do that. Big picture for me! I want to see Jesus in the whole!

  6. Jeff, I commend you in your search. Martin Luther said it was not wise to go against one's conscience. If the Scriptures take us there .... we go there!