I wanted to say this in yesterday’s preface, but it felt like my little preface was too long, so I figured part of it could wait a day. The acrostic TULIP is used to describe the doctrines of grace, but John Calvin was French and did most of his ministry in Geneva, Switzerland, so he did not speak or write in English. Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination used the acrostic TULIP for the doctrines of grace in 1932 and was originally thought to be the first use of it, but it seems that in 1913, William Vail’s The New Outlook recalls TULIP being used in a lecture by Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee in 1905. While it is unlikely to have gone back too much further in Christian history, it’s clearly a tool that is American in origin.
Parts of the doctrines of grace themselves even predate John Calvin. Some of the concepts can be found in some of the writings of Irenaeus and later, St. Augustine of Hippo. The codified concepts are largely found in Calvin’s systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the points themselves were developed as a response to the Remonstrants in the Netherlands and their 5 points of Arminianism. The 5 points of Arminianism were put on trial at the Synod of Dort in Dordrecht, Netherlands and the decision that was made is known as the Canons of Dort, which is one document that’s part of the Three Forms of Unity (the Dutch Reformed confessional documents).
What is it?
Unconditional election is the doctrine that states that God chose us from before the foundations of the world for no other reasoning than God’s own glory. We did not do anything to earn this. God did not look down the corridors of time and choose those that he knew would independently choose him if given the chance (this would be conditional election). God chose the elect sola gratia, by grace alone.
But what about free choice?
So today’s topic and tomorrow’s topic are both pretty difficult for people to accept, generally, and I think it’s partly due to the fact that they both touch on the topic of reprobation, which is super uncomfortable for most people because we don’t like telling people that they’re going to hell. To say God chose some is to say that God did not choose others and it is even more objectionable to hear that those he chose were chosen for seemingly no reason, since they did not merit being chosen.
How could God send people to hell? When Ray Comfort speaks of his book Hitler, God, and the Bible; he says that he went into his research in his subconscious thinking “how could God create a hell?” but after seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, he “came out of that thinking, ‘how could God not create hell? There must be punishment for evil.’ If God is just and good and holy, there must be retribution, or God is wicked and evil because any judge that turns a blind eye to such wickedness and says, ‘I don’t care’ is evil by nature.”
Why does God pick people against their will? If he didn’t, no one would be saved. Because we are all born in original sin, totally depraved, with hearts naturally bent towards sin and against God, God in his grace and mercy has to be the one that wakes our hearts up because we otherwise wouldn’t choose that. This gets a little into what’s called the order of salvation, if you remember from my post on Lordship Salvation. I am going to put a little resource on the ordo salutis below so you can check back to that, I’ve found it super helpful.
Now, this is not to say that God is lining humanity up and picking some people off to go to heaven and others to hell at his every casual whim and this is something I will be getting into a bit more tomorrow, so bear with me if this is something you struggle with.
Ultimately, I see the doctrine of election as a gracious doctrine because it means that I don’t have to earn a right standing with God by praying a prayer and “meaning it enough.” It takes the focus off of myself and puts it back on God and his sovereignty. That he is sovereign to the point of not just predicting the future, but ordaining the future to the point of orchestrating a divine intervention in my heart. If Christianity is true (which I believe it is), I don’t want free will. I want God to override what I think I want and give me what is best for me, himself forever.
Scriptural Support for Unconditional Election:
- John 1:13, 6:37-39, 10:1-30, 17:2
- Mark 13:20
- 1 Corinthians 1:3-8, 27-29
- Revelation 13:8, 17:8
- Ephesians 2:1-10
- 2 Timothy 1:9-10
- Romans 9
John Calvin Speaks About it in the Institutes:
- Book 3, chapter 21, sec 5-7
- Book 3, chapter 23, sec 1
More Resources to Learn:
- Canons of Dort Head 1 https://bit.ly/33BlAmu
- PRCA outline of Unconditional Election https://bit.ly/3dfs91v
- Ligonier https://bit.ly/3iEXwn0
- Monergism resources https://bit.ly/3nqhXrg
- TGC Romans 9 Objections https://bit.ly/33ydVoY
- TGC 3 Objections to Election https://bit.ly/36Binp1
- CARM Unconditional Election https://bit.ly/30CrZvT
- A Puritan’s Mind https://bit.ly/3iBhhvM