Discussing Reformed Theology: Is Election Unconditional?

This is a follow up to Adam Robles’ original post discussing whether the doctrine of Unconditional Election is taught in the Bible.  These posts discussing Reformed Theology are not debates, per se, rather they are discussions.  Because they are less formal, the posts back and forth will read more like long comments.  If you are at all interested in discussing Reformed Theology, you should follow along the way.

The doctrine of unconditional election essentially states that before the foundations of the world God decided who would be saved, and consequently, who would not.  This decision was made not based on anything in the particular person, but on God’s own will.

I don’t have any objection to God exercising a prerogative to do so.  After all, that which He is not obliged to do at all, He is not obliged to do for all.  As Creator, God has any and all authority to do as He wills.  But what He can do is different from what He did and does do.

Can there truly be an elective process which has nothing to do with us in any way without it being arbitrary?  I don’t think so.  If the election is not based on anything in us, it must be arbitrary.  If it were’t arbitrary, then it would have to be based on something about us whatever it might be.  That is the very definition of arbitrary, that it’s not based on anything about object.  I don’t have anything in particular in mind because I think election refers to a class of people: believers, not necessarily individuals.  My only point is that if there is nothing in us, then the decision to elect a particular individual over another is by definition, arbitrary and I don’t believe God would act arbitrarily.

I think it all comes down to the passages.  Can they be understood to apply to a group of people rather than an individual, as in, the elect, chosen from before the foundations, are believers — as a class of people?  That a class of people, believers, is chosen?  Now, I don’t disagree that God might select particular people who would serve a purpose in a larger plan of His.  Moses, the Prophets, Paul and the rest of the Apostles, for example, played integral roles in the entire salvation enterprise and as such would have been chosen as individuals.   In mentioning the people I did (and some I didn’t) I think they were probably intentionally selected to be used for a purpose and as such were saved.  I also think that some people may be intentionally selected by God to be saved or used and not others.  God intentionally used Pharaoh for His purpose with the Israelites and was essentially intentionally not going to be saved.  I think as a general rule individuals are not elected in the ‘Reformed’ sense, but there are some who are.  I think also as a general rule that individuals are not destined for Hell i.e., unelect in the ‘Reformed’ sense, but there are some who are: Pharaoh, Hitler, the Caananites, etc.

Lastly, if the election of the saved were predetermined, the Bible is incredibly misleading to the unelect who might read it.  What I mean by this is the Bible suggests many times and rather explicitly that salvation is possible for anyone — but not if Unconditional Election is true.  This means that any unelect person reading the Bible would mistakenly think they have an opportunity to be saved when that simply isn’t true.  At one point, God pleads with Israel to turn from their sins, that they don’t have to die in them:

(Ezekiel 33:10-11) — “Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?”’ Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’


  1. The Bible gives a condition – faith in Christ. And your last paragraph is the clincher. If God preselected who would be save, then by extension he also chose who would go to hell. The Reformed don’t like that, but it is the logical result. And if we tell people the gospel, so that they may be saved, if they aren’t one of the elect then we are lying to them.

    • @glenn I want to be clear. I dont Have a problem with the doctrine per se. If thats how God wanted to do it, it would be well within his right to do so. He could torture us like a kid pulls the wings off a fly if he wanted to and as Creator he could do ot without moral impunity. However, even though he can elect as the doctrine outlines, I dont think he did do it like that and I dont think the bible must be understood to teach that. I think the verses used to defend UE arent univocal. Given the entire body of verses concerning salvation and how one can be saved amd who may be, it doesnt read like individuals were preselected as a rule. I do think there are some people God does elect and some people he creates bound for hell because they are used to serve a larger purpose, like sacrificing a bishop in order to secure mate.

  2. Glenn, of course salvation is conditional. I asserted that in my piece. But in John 6, Jesus teaches that we arent given by the father on the basis of that condition. We are given by the father first, and then as a result we will meet that condition and come to/believe in Christ.

    • Adam

      Doesnt then that result in God’s command to evangelize and the bible being read by the unelect essentially a lie?

    • Yep, a nice Calvinistic eisegetical approach to John 6 so as to fit the biased ideology. The Father gives to Jesus those who have trusted in him. Otherwise, you have too many lies in the Bible when people are told that ALL can come to Christ, and that ALL have choices to make. If the choice has already been made for you, that isn’t a choice at all. After all, didn’t Jesus say, in John 12:31-32, that he draws ALL men to himself? Wait, wait – I forgot; That really means that Jesus draws all KINDS of men to himself.

  3. Glenn, where did i make the mistake in my exegesis of John 6? John and Glenn: I really dont understand the objection about the Bible being a lie. According to your perspective: If God has perfect knowledge of everyone’s eternal fate, then he tells a person that he knows will not come to him, that they can come to him and be saved… is it a lie? Not at all. It is still true that if he came to him he would be saved, his perfect knowledge that he cannot come to him, doesnt render that statement a lie.

    • You made the mistake by taking it as one passage out of the many which explain who they are who are given to Christ. Reformed theology says God chose who would be given to Christ based on his preselection of people with no conditions on their part, and then He regenerated them so they WILL come to faith, leaving everyone else unregenerated to they have no ability to come to Christ. If they have no ability, then it is a lie to say they can come to Christ! When you tell someone they can come to Christ and be saved, if they haven’t been regenerated in the Reformed version, then it is impossible for them to come to Christ! The Bible teaches regeneration at the moment one comes to faith in Christ and are given the Holy Spirit. Reformed theology says they have to be regenerated first so they can place their faith in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. In other words, they have to be saved first so they can be saved!

    • Adam

      What would you call it if an offer were made that was impossible to collect on?

  4. paynehollow says:

    Hey Brudda Glenn, I think I agree with your main point. Yes, of course, God loves all, calls all, wants all to be saved. Why WOULDN’T a perfect, loving God want that??

    How about that? We agree! It’s a Christmas miracle…

    • Trabue,

      How many times do I have to tell you to NOT call me your brother. I find it to be very offensive. We are not brothers in any sense of the word. You are an unsaved, unregenerate idolater worshiping a Jesus and God of your own making.

  5. I dont know. But the point is, unless someone is an Open Theist, they have to answer the very same objection.

    • Adam, I dont think you need to be an open theist. God knowing who will accept Christ’s offer and who won’t is different from God actively selecting and preventing.

    • Proper hermeneutics does not take a solitary passage out of context. The context is all passages talking about salvation and election. Even cults take passages out of context and make them say what they APPEAR to be saying.

      Everyone is ABLE to make the choices. Just because God KNOWS who will or will not make the choice, that does not change the fact that they are able. Knowing something isn’t the cause of it.

  6. Glenn, so in other words, my exegesis is sound, but you are saying that other scriptures disagree with what this one says, so even though my exegesis is sounds, it cannot mean what I say it means? Did you read the article? If so, I ask you to show me where I went wrong without setting scripture against scripture. If I am wrong and you can show that the grammar/syntax doesnt means what I say it means…i would really like to know that.

  7. John, while i agree that the two are very different…it doesnt change the fact is that God is making an offer to somone who is unable to accept it. Unable in the sense that God cannot be wrong about his future knowledge, and he has had such knowledge from all time. He created that person knowing that he would not able to accept the offer and be saved in the end, becuase he had the knowledge of it.

  8. But if God knows the future absolutely then upon creation everything was determined right? God cant be wrong about the future. So even though he isnt forcing a person to believe or not believe, that person cannot do otherwise….no matter what. He won’t and he can’t. Not by force, but by necesity of the fact that God creates with perfect knowledge of what he he creates. Nothing was created unintentionally or outside of his will.

    • God is outside of time and knows the beginning from the end. But that does not mean everything within time is predetermined.

    • Adam

      I agree everything God creates is with intentionality. I also dont think He does anything arbitrarily. To elect based on something that’s not in the individual is by definition arbitrary. That’s one reason I believe the election passages are referring to classes of people: ones who believe, rather than individuals.

      It all comes down to intent. Me giving food to the poor because I feel compassion or giving it because it will win me a prize has the same effect, but the motive is different.

      • Nothing can happen without God knowing it. But that doesn’t mean He predetermined it. There is no problem with God knowing what will happen while at the same time allowing his creation to choose what they will do, while allowing physical processes to continue bringing storms and earthquakes, etc. God, being sovereign, still has the ability to intervene in His creation to bring about the results he wants.

        The fact that our mental comprehension of these things is impossible because of our finite minds, is really no different than our lack of full comprehension of the Trinity.

  9. i agree Glenn. knowing something is not the cause of it. but that doesnt solve the problem.

  10. Glenn, can things happen in time that God didnt know about when he created?

  11. John, I will be responding to the idea of God’s election of individuals being arbitrary and the corporate election solution, in my response piece. I assure you, I feel the weight of that objection 100%.

  12. I agree with most of what you said Glenn. But once God knows something will happen a certain way, that eliminates by necesity the possibility of that thing not happening. So God, knowing the certainity of somone’s rejection, still calls that person to repentence. I agree that is not wrong for him to do that…but all i am saying is that it renders that objection to the reformed position invalid from the start.

    • Adam, its the difference between a genuine offer knowing they will reject and making the offer knowing you intentionally prevented their possibly accepting. It’s all motive and by extension, the character of God.

    • And, no, it does NOT “renders that objection to the reformed position invalid from the start.” Apparently you can’t see the difference between God’s election being based on His foreknowledge (as the Bible teaches) rather than being based on His fore-ordination. There is a huge difference.

      I have never asserted, nor has any Calvinist i know of asserted, that God has intentionally prevented their possibly accepting any offer of salvation. It is impossible to accept the offer without God moving first. But God is not preventing somone from accepting who would otherwise accept. They choose to hate God, and thats all they want to do and all they every will want to do.

      Um, the Reformed position IS that God has NOT given them the ability to chose if they aren’t already elected. The Reformed position is that God selects WHO to give the ability to chose to! By God not regenerating ALL people (in the Reformed idea of when regeneration occurs), then God is preventing the non-elect from having an ability to make a choice about God. The Reformed position is that unless God moves in their heart FIRST, then no one would choose God, no one has the ability to choose God. But the Bible plainly states that we ALL have that ability to either choose God or reject God.

  13. I have never asserted, nor has any Calvinist i know of asserted, that God has intentionally prevented their possibly accepting any offer of salvation. It is impossible to accept the offer without God moving first. But God is not preventing somone from accepting who would otherwise accept. They choose to hate God, and thats all they want to do and all they every will want to do.

  14. The only preventing God does, is he prevents his elect from continuing in this state of active rebellion against him.

  15. John would you delete that last comment – I have the italics in the wrong places. Thanks

  16. And, no, it does NOT “renders that objection to the reformed position invalid from the start.” Apparently you can’t see the difference between God’s election being based on His foreknowledge (as the Bible teaches) rather than being based on His fore-ordination. There is a huge difference.

    I have never asserted, nor has any Calvinist i know of asserted, that God has intentionally prevented their possibly accepting any offer of salvation. It is impossible to accept the offer without God moving first. But God is not preventing somone from accepting who would otherwise accept. They choose to hate God, and thats all they want to do and all they every will want to do.

    Um, the Reformed position IS that God has NOT given them the ability to chose if they aren’t already elected. The Reformed position is that God selects WHO to give the ability to chose to! By God not regenerating ALL people (in the Reformed idea of when regeneration occurs), then God is preventing the non-elect from having an ability to make a choice about God. The Reformed position is that unless God moves in their heart FIRST, then no one would choose God, no one has the ability to choose God. But the Bible plainly states that we ALL have that ability to either choose God or reject God.

  17. Glenn, yes the Reformed position is that without God moving first, NOONE will choose God. That is not the same thing as God preventing anyone from choosing God. Their choice is made, and it is a universal rejection of God. That is the reformed position.

    • If God gives ONLY some people the ability to chose Him, then by logical extension, if He DOESN’T give others the ability to choose Him, then HE has prevented their choice. He gives them NO choice to chose or to not choose. There may be a “universal rejection of God” but once people hear the Word of God they can decide to chose FOR God from that point on or reject Him from that point on. THAT is what the Bible teaches. It is the WORD of God which brings people to make a choice – not some preselection by God. His only pre-selection is that of those who have accepted His offer of their own free will, and not because God preselected them and “regenerated” them to chose Him because after that they had no free will choice to chose or reject!

  18. John, I think we can end the discussion of the idea that God is lying in scripture to the non-elect with your own words. In your piece, you have granted that some people are are predestined to hell by God. You used Hitler as an example. So given that you have granted that…was God lying to Hitler in the scriptures with his offer of salvation. If he was not lying to Hitler, then you are forced to drop the objection against my position. God cannot lie. not even sometimes. if he can lie sometimes, then i think the conversation has to end here anyway.

    • I don’t think God predestined Hitler to Hell except in the point that He predestined all those who would accept Christ would be saved and all those who rejected Him would be condemned.

      In Acts 17:30 Paul said that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” Now, if according to Reformed ideology God chooses who to give that ability to, then God is lying by commanding people to do what they are unable to do!

    • Adam

      You’re right. I will have to drop or revise that line of reasoning. It doesnt mean my view is wrong, but that argument against yours is, kudos/drat!

  19. Thats fine Glenn, but since John wrote the rebuttal to my article, I am addressing his arguments. You have refused to even interact with my article.

    • I’m interacting on THIS blog.

      • Glenn

        The point of this discussion is to interact over the scope of a few posts. Adam gave his view and line of thought in the preceding post. It might be helpful for you to see more of where he is coming from by addressing his specific points there. Since he is responding to my thoughts in these comments, youre not going to get the background even though you know the framework behind his view. He made a specific reference in the last post.

        I think Adam is right. We might need to slow down on this post and wait for his response.

        • I did a quick look at Adam’s post, and saw nothing which I haven’t previously seen from the Reformed position. So my comments on this post are limited in scope as a response to comments made here.

          I don’t really like to get into long discussions in regards to Reformed ideology because it goes no where. Which is why I didn’t bother with Adam’s post to begin with.

  20. I could be swayed away from the position I presented if you could show me where i went wrong in my exegesis. That you refuse to even interact with it tells me much. You opened your comments with “the bible gives a condition – faith in Christ”. If you had actually read my article, you would know the distinction I made between the obviously conditional salvation and unconditional election. When you are disagreeing with a position you have to disagree with position presented. You didnt even acknowledge the position i presented and still havent.

  21. In these kinds of debates, you have to let you opponent define his own position and work out the conclusions from there. You can’t just change what the opponent believes and then attack that position. That is what gets people nowhere.

    • As I noted above, your article said nothing I haven’t read before. It is standard Calvinist ideology. Here’s your specific error:

      The verb tenses indicate the giving of the Father comes before the coming to Jesus.

      In God’s view it DOES happen before the coming of Jesus, because God is outside of time. In HIS view – EVERYTHING has already happened because he sees the end from the beginning. The Bible says God made His choice based on FOREKNOWLEDGE (Acts 2:23; Rom.8:29; Rom 11:2; 1 Pet.1:2; and many more by inference). Calvinism says it is due to FORE-ORDINATION.

      Your whole argument is based on Calvinist ideology. You take this one verse as if it means God pre-selected people without their input, while all through Scripture we are told WE have to make a choice – i.e., WE have input. God knows who will choose, and it is those he gives to Christ.

      We have the ability to choose WITHOUT God regenerating us first:
      Josh. 24:15: Choose to serve God.
      2 Chron. 15:2 – “If you seek him…but if you forsake him” indicates choice
      Ezra 8:22 – “everyone who looks to him” vs “all who forsake him” indicates choice
      Ps. 10:4 – “does not” indicates choice not to seek God.
      Ps. 86:5 – one chooses whether to call on God
      Jeremiah 29:13 – choice of seeking God
      Mark 16:16 – “whoever believes” and “whoever will not believe” indicates choice between the two
      Luke 8:12 – The devil must prevent them from believing
      John 1:12 – choice to receive or not
      John 3:16-18 – “whoever believes” vs “whoever does not believe” indicates choice
      John 3:36 – “whoever believes” vs “whoever rejects” indicates choice
      John 5:24 – “whoever…believes” is a choice
      John 5:40 – “you refuse to come to me”; refusal is a choice
      John 20:31 – “by believing” indicates choice
      Acts 16:31 – “Believe…” is choice
      Acts 17:30 – choice of repenting
      Rom. 1:16 – “to everyone who believes” makes it a matter of choice
      1 Cor. 15:1-2 – the Gospel was received and taken a stand for, i.e. choice
      2 Cor. 4:4 – Unbelievers must be blinded so they can’t choose
      1 Tim. 1:16 – “those who would believe” vs those who wouldn’t is choice
      Heb. 11:6 – must believe God exists, which means he must have the ability to believe or not
      1 Pet. 3:1 – the husband has a choice to become a believer
      Rev. 22:17 – “whoever wishes” indicates choice

      • Glenn

        Do you believe as I do that there are some people who were pre-determined to be saved or damned even though that’s not the normal?

        • John,

          No I do not believe that. I believe God gives EVERYONE the chance to make their choices to either follow HIM or reject HIM.

          Adam, I agree that those who are not given to Jesus are those who are unsaved. However, they are unsaved by their own choice and not because God made the choice for them. Does that answer your question?

          • Then, you think Judas could have done otherwise? It seems that God would have to guarantee at least some people would do some things to bring together his overall plan. What if no one chose to betray Jesus?

  22. This is a interesting response. So you are admitting then that those who end up in hell are not “given” to Jesus by the Father according to this passage. The only ones given, according to this passage are those who are elect. Where you and I would disagree is why are certain people given and certain people not given. Is this a correct understanding of where you think my error is?

  23. Glenn,

    So keeping that in mind, that certain people were not given to Jesus before hand. (even though according to your perspective this was based on foreknowledge). Why wouldnt Jesus be lying to those whom he had not been given by the father when he commands them to repent, knowing that since they were not given by the father (by divine foreknowledge), they cannot possibly repent? (divine foreknowledge cannot be wrong.) Surely, Jesus knew who was and who was not being given by the Father.

    So why would this objection work on me and not on you?

    • John,
      God knows who will do what, and uses everyone as needed for his purposes.

      It is not lying to the people to tell them they have a choice. Just because God KNOWS the choice, that doesn’t mean it was a fore-ordained choice.

      In our linear time, the choices haven’t happened yet, while in God’s time – outside of linear time – he knows the choices made. Even in AD 30 God knows that in 2013 a person will place their faith in Christ, and so can talk as if that already happened. It isn’t because they can’t repent (as Calvinists say), rather God knows they will choose to not repent.

      In the Reformed version, God can say that because God MAKES it happen. If He makes it happen, then there is no choice. If the person has no choice, then to say otherwise is a lie.

      And this is why I think Calvinists make the whole issue too difficult. I find it to be quite simple.

      I always wonder how Calvinists KNOW they are saved – how do they KNOW they are one of the elect? They might just be thinking they are saved while God is laughing at their foolishness because He didn’t select them!

  24. I agree it isnt lying. it isnt lying for Christ to tell someone they must repent, when Christ already knows in advanced they can’t go against what He already knows they will do. What Christ created them knowing they would do. Whether not you agree with total depravity as I define it….it doesnt make it any more a lie.

  25. John,

    In my response I am going to ignore the “God is lying” objection in order to save space, for a more clear exposition of the “uncondtional” part of unconditional election. Unless you think it hasnt been adequately resolved in the comments. If not, i will respond to it.

    • Adam

      I think it needs to be addressed because the doctrine states that some are intentionally chosen, and the rest are by extension intentionally chosen to be unsaved. On the doctrine an unelect person is told they can be saved by believing even though they cant. I realize that as a base description thats true. But as it is stated in the bible it reads as more of an offer.

      Youve pointed out that according to MY view, that complaint is incoherent, and rightly so. If i want to offer that complaint and not be inconsistent, ill have to change my view. But it still is valid if your view is correct. So you might want to address it even if only in one paragraph.

      Either way I have to think more about my view.

  26. wiley16350 says:

    The reason you can’t resolve the conflict and seeming biblical contradiction is your belief in eternal hell. This is the eon of grace, this is the eon of God’s desire to give salvation freely to those he has elected. Grace is not given by merit but by God’s own desire to save as he wishes to show humanity once and for all that grace can’t be earned and only given. If you find yourself vehemently angry at this, it’s because you want to earn your own salvation and you probably should sit down and think long and hard about what you truly believe for we know that salvation is of God and not of ourselves. In the next eon God will save through judgment and fire, not for retribution, not for punishment, not for justice but to take away the evils of all men through purification. The purpose of spreading the gospel (good news) is to give humanity hope and peace, through what Christ has done, God is no longer at enmity with us, he has conciliated us, is effecting salvation within us and has broken the chains of death and we can look forward to the day when God has reconciled the world to himself.

    Disclaimer – this is not typical christian belief, but I do believe it is biblical. Please understand that this is my current understanding, do not accept what I say as fact but please do the research and see if what I say has some merit to it.

  27. John, Sounds good to me.

  28. WIley, I agree that if one is willing to accept universalism, then they don’t have to make distinctions in God’s revealed will, that i believe are biblical. That is a worthwhile discussion…but takes us a little to far off course at present.

  29. Jeffrey A.Potter says:

    God is not a liar! Nor are we to play God either. If Jesus told the man on the cross that he assuredly would be in Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) with Jesus!…after a life of crime deserving death…. would he have gotten the same outcome if he didn’t choose to speak up? Yes, God knows the hearts and there are things that He knows that we don’t . Yet to pre choose our choice ahead of time takes the free will that He gives us and flushes it away and we are plugged into a “matrix” of some sort where the choice is done away with…. why would God (on purpose ) make Jonah run away from Him? If God wants us to be able to reason with Him and not against Him…. truth will stand out. Why would God (as we profess ( a loving God) choose ahead of time to take His creation made in His image and completely destroy it for His own good pleasure? Sounds like the god of sickos … Jesus said He is the Way, Truth, and Light. If we are told to go and make disciples of a god that chooses hell for them ahead of time…that’s not correct theology. No one who is “unsaved” who is seeking truth will find any redeeming quality in a god that decides his or her fate for them. We do have choice. There is a difference between “writing our own path to heaven” and “riding someone else’s faith to salvation”. He reaches to all men! All denominations have their issues. Some have their “faith in faith itself”, some have their “standing in their elect status”, some have their “nonconformity”. All ways to “separate” themselves from others….. but know that even these attributes can become “idols” and they tend to set people off when Christ Jesus’s character cannot be seen through arrogance, pride, or piety…..etc. We are told to live according to our position, but we are also told to not think too highly of ourselves. Be humble knowing that we are all in the boat of “fallen short of the glory of God” and it’s not by anything that we’ve done, but what was done for us on the cross! We as a body of professed believers in Christ need to better represent Him to the world He so loves if we are gonna be the ambassadors He “preordained” us to be! Peace…..

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