The Doctrine of Election

Inspired by my eldest son and recent posts by my friends Barry and David, I plan to make a series of posts dealing with the Doctrine of Election.

Early in this discussion we must agree on a few items to have a meaningful dialogue.

  1. This is a discussion between believers. A person outside the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ does not have the power or presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and is incapable of correctly understanding the Bible.
  2. This is a theological inquiry that seeks to discern what the bible teaches. It is not about fairness, goodness, telling other people what to believe, etc. “What does the bible teach about the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility or free-will?” That is the question we are pursuing.
  3. There will be limits to our ability to thoroughly articulate sophisticated doctrine. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than mine and I will never be able to comprehend everything about the magnificence of The Father.
  4. We must agree on common vocabulary and eschew pejorative language that sounds good if we are trying to “put them in their place” but does not foster growth and understanding with a brother or sister in Christ. (see #1)
  5. At the end of our dialogues, there will still be disagreements.

Two terms we will have to engage are ‘paradox’ and ‘antinomy.’  Paradox is a a literary device used in story telling. It refers to an apparent contradiction. When Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all,” Mark 9:36 NIV, He is using paradox.  Even an immature believer understands the concept.

Antinomy is another matter entirely. It means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology. The contradiction is not just apparent, it is profound and irreconcilable.

The issues we face in election are not merely paradoxical. They go deeper than that. They may, in fact, be characterized by antinomy. If the bible presents flatly contradictory viewpoints, from our perspective, it does not mean that God cannot completely resolve the matter based on His superior knowledge.

Enough for now. Tell me why I am right or wrong.

Also, Barry has a great quote from Charles Spurgeon at his blog.

Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

Shamed by Charles Spurgeon.

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3 replies
  1. Barry Wallace
    Barry Wallace says:

    That’s a good introduction to an important subject.

    I’m already intrigued by your mention of paradox and antinomy. J.I. Packer, in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God considers this an antinomy. John Piper cordially but firmly disagrees.

    I’m really looking forward to the discussion!

  2. Derek Ashton
    Derek Ashton says:

    Dr. Bruce,

    I find myself constantly pulled back and forth between the two sides. It seems that Scripture is correcting my view at every turn, but I never quite get settled into one spot between the two sides and never quite feel “balanced” on the matter of sovereign election and human choice. Perhaps this is as God intends it. As a result, I have to continually ackowledge the fact that my intellect is too weak to comprehend such lofty matters. The humility is better for me than the knowledge I might have of the divine secrets if they weren’t so mysterious.

    As to whether it is antinomy or a very large paradox, I like the substance of what J.I. Packer wrote in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. But I don’t think I would go so far as to call it antinomy. It may be partly an issue of semantics. To me, Piper and Packer are pretty much agreed on this topic. Packer has just gotten into a bit of hot water with many who are uncomfortable with the term “antinomy.” I first heard of this in a brief conversation I had with Phil Johnson. He felt that using the term “antinomy” only confused the matter. I tend to agree.

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