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Opening Statement - Shandon L. Guthrie



I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to Peter Pike for participating in this interesting exchange. The question before us in this debate is, "Is unconditional election true?" In support of a negative answer to this question, I will defend two major propositions: (i) There are no good reasons to think unconditional election is true, and (ii) There are good reasons to think that unconditional election is false. Prior to my analysis here, let me begin by clarifying some terms. Free will (or creaturely freedom) refers to the ability of the person's own intellect to choose freely between two (or more) possibilities despite proclivities and predispositions. Divine sovereignty (or providence) is properly defined by Thomas Flint as the view that God "exercises sovereignty over his world . . . in the sense that every event, no matter how large or small, is under God's control and is incorporated into his overall plan for the world." (1) Unconditional election (or theological determinism) is the view, according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, that "Those of mankind that are predestined to life, God . . . has chosen, in Christ, to everlasting glory . . . without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto." (2)



I. NO GOOD REASON TO THINK UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION IS TRUE

Pike begins by disavowing one's role in choosing their soteriological destiny on grounds that it adds to the salvation of Christ. Here I think a proper distinction needs to be employed. The atonement that brings salvation is distinct from the application of that salvation. My choosing salvation is an example of the latter whereas the crucifixion of Jesus exemplifies the former.

He then surmises that all choices are made via our "strongest desires." Although I have no immediate problem with this view, to me this is implicitly contradictory to the doctrine of unconditional election because it is possible to choose against those desires.

Does Romans 9 affirm unconditional election? Pike suggests that God's election is prior to the twins' existence (vv. 11-13). But nothing is suggested here on what basis that election is made for it begs the initial question: How does God elect? He further suggests that verses 22-24 posit that God's grace is selective. I think Romans 9 proclaims quite the opposite. God does not limit his grace to only a select few (that salvation is not limited to the Jews), but expands his grace to all persons (e.g. the Gentiles) so that they may accept or reject it. Why? Because, says God, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy."

Thus, I find these reasons unconvincing for unconditional election.



II. GOOD REASONS TO THINK THAT UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION IS FALSE

In support of an non-determinist basis for God's election, I shall present two subarguments, one philosophical and one theological.

(A) Theological determinism contradicts creaturely freedom. It seems that if theological determinism were true then it is logically impossible for creaturely freedom to exist. To see this, notice that creaturely freedom entails that



(1) A person can either freely choose salvation or reject it.



Unconditional election/determinism entails that



(2) A person is determined to choose salvation.



To see the problem, let us take a look at each statement. Statement (1) can be properly schematized as



(3) P(f) * (S v ~S).



Statement (2) can be schematized properly as



(4) P(d) * S.



Now, it is impossible that all conditions for



(5) [P(d) * S] * [P(f) * (S v ~S)]



be true because it is possible that



(6) A person freely chooses to reject salvation



or



(7) P(f) * (~S)



But if (4) is true for some determined individual then it is impossible for (7) to be a valid option. The lesson here is that if a person can freely choose to either be saved or not then he cannot be determined to be saved. Likewise, if he is determined then he cannot choose to either be saved or not. The only way to avoid the problem of (5) is to either acknowledge determinism at the expense of free will or to acknowledge free will at the expense of determinism. Either way, (5) makes determinism hopelessly incompatible with creaturely freedom.

(B) The New Testament advocates creaturely freedom. The New Testament seems to make it abundantly clear that salvation is a viable option for any person. Certain popular passages buttress this understanding. For example, John 3:16 makes the following conditional statement:



(8) If anyone believes in Christ then he shall not perish (but have everlasting life).



Likewise, verse 18 also affirms



(9) If he believes then he is not condemned.



This sentiment is echoed throughout all layers of the Gospel traditions as seen in Matthew 21:32, Mark 16:16a, John 1:7, 6:29, 11:26; and 19:35 (to name a few), and is also confirmed in the Pauline writings such as Romans 4:4-5 and 24, 16:25-6; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 3:7; 3:22; and 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (to name a few). One particular passage that expresses a non-determinist concept of a conditional salvation is 2 Peter 3:9 which states that God "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

But how can any of these admonitions for all persons to freely come to believe in Christ be true if God has already determined those who will be saved? You see, God cannot make someone freely choose Christ because these concepts are mutually exclusive. But the Bible clearly teaches the freedom of the intellect to believe in Christ. Therefore, theological determinism is false.



Hence, we have seen no good reason to believe in unconditional election and two good reasons to reject it. It seems to me, therefore, that God elects on the basis of the creaturely will.









END NOTES



1. Thomas Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (New York: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 13.

2. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1648): V.