The Doctrine of Salvation (part 3)

June 01, 2009     Time: 00:15:01

[Opening prayer]

We’ve been looking at the Calvinistic, or Reformed, perspective on the subjects of election and predestination. Now we want to look at the Arminian point of view which comes most famously from the non-Calvinistic thinker Jacob Arminius who wanted to defend freedom of the human will against Calvin and the other Reformers who denied it.

The position that there is libertarian freedom – that is, freedom to act through one’s own agency with respect to salvation and all that that encompasses – is known as Arminianism. Denominations like Methodism would be Arminian in their theology.

Let’s look again at Ephesians 1:3-14. Read that and see how a typical Arminian would interpret that passage.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

The Arminian, as he interprets this passage, makes two points about the nature of election.

First, election is Christo-centric. That is to say, it is centered in Christ. Notice that Paul says over and over again, “In him, we were chosen,” “In him, he destined us,” “In him, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for his glory,” “In him, you who heard the word of truth were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” It is insofar as one is in Christ that one is the object of God’s election and predestination. Election is Christo-centric. It is for those who find themselves, or are in, Christ.

Secondly, election is primarily corporate in nature and only secondarily individual. That is to say, what God has predestined is a people for himself.[1] It is this people who are destined to live for his glory, to be sealed with the Holy Spirit, to have forgiveness of sins, and so forth. Insofar as one is identified with this group – with this corporate body – one is secondarily predestined, elected, and so forth. It is up to you whether or not you want to be part of this elect body that is called and predestined and so forth.

A good example of this perspective would be Robert Shank in his book, Elect in the Son. If you are interested, I would highly commend this book to you. It is not a difficult book, but it is a very excellent study of the doctrine of election from an Arminian perspective. I wanted to read a couple of pages from it to illustrate for you this point of view. From page 46 of his book, Elect in the Son, he says,

. . . election is primarily corporate and only secondarily particular. The thesis that election is corporate, as Paul understood it and viewed it in the Ephesian doxology [that is, verses 1 to 14], is supported by the whole context of this epistle:

[Here are quotations of phrases from the epistle to the Ephesians that have this implicit corporate idea. I’ll just read some of these quotations to you.]

. . . gather together in one all things in Christ . . . the redemption of the purchased possession . . . his inheritance in the saints . . . the church, which is his body . . . who has made us both one . . . to make in himself of twain one new man . . . that he might reconcile both unto God in one body . . . the household of God . . . all the building fitly framed together . . . a holy temple . . . builded together for an habitation of God . . . of the same body . . . the mystery from the beginning of the world [now disclosed in] the church [as fulfillment of] the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord . . . of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named . . . glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages . . . one body . . . the body of Christ . . . the whole body fitly joined together . . . increase of the body . . . we are members of one another . . . Christ is the head of the church . . . the savior of the body . . . Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church . . . they two shall be one flesh [but] I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Those are quotations from Ephesians. Shank says,

The concept of the corporate body of the elect is intrinsic in all the above excerpts. Consider 2:12, “you were without Christ, being aliens in the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise. . . .” The concept of the corporate election of Israel, a concept derived from many Scriptures, is clearly apparent. The concept of corporate election is equally apparent in Paul’s assertion that Jews and Gentiles together are “reconciled to God in one body on the cross” (v. 16).

Then he quotes from John Calvin the opposite point of view. This is what Calvin said about this. Calvin said,

When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. . . . If what I teach is true,

that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God

though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of

destruction. . . . the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam

He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every

individual, was fixed and determined. . . . God chose out of the condemned race of

Adam those whom He pleased and reprobated whom He willed.

Here is Shank’s comment on the Calvin quotation:[2]

It is evident from his definitions of election (and reprobation) that Calvin viewed election as both specifically individual and unconditional. A central thesis of Calvin’s doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is of particular men unconditionally, who comprise the corporate body incidentally.

A central thesis of the Biblical [maybe we should say “Arminian”] doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is corporate and comprehends individual men only in identification and association with the elect body.

That would be the way in which the Arminian would understand election in Ephesians 1 as primarily a corporate notion.

Next time we will look at how the Arminian will understand Romans 8:28-30 – the passage about those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, and so forth.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It doesn’t enter into the Arminian view, at least insofar as Ephesians is concerned. Ephesians doesn’t mention foreknowledge. This does come up in the Romans passage. Insofar as the Arminian thinks of election as primarily corporate, it neither affirms nor denies foreknowledge. If the elect body is this corporate group then theoretically you could say God might not know whether anybody would be in it. I think that would be an unscriptural doctrine, but what I am saying is the doctrine of election here (as we’ve explained it) isn’t based on foreknowledge. It is not like God looks into the future and sees who is going to give their lives to him in faith and then he predestines them. It is not that view. It is rather that God has selected a corporate group – the church – to be the beneficiaries of all these things, and then people identify themselves with the corporate group through faith in Christ. The Arminian view is consistent with saying he doesn’t know if anybody will be in the group, or it is consistent with saying he knows everybody who will freely align themselves with the group. The latter is what I believe, and I think that that is the scriptural view. Who is aligned with the group is no surprise to God. He knows that exactly.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: is that an integral part of Arminianism? I don’t think it is an integral part. There are different views of Arminianism. As I say, there is a kind of popular naïve Arminian view that says the way election works is like this: before the foundation of the world – back at the beginning of the universe – God looks into the future and he sees that Jones will go to the Billy Graham crusade and freely places his faith in Christ and be saved, and therefore God says, OK, I’m going to predestine Jones to salvation. I think that doctrine is just completely a non-starter because if God knows that he already will do it then predestination becomes a kind of fifth wheel – it doesn’t do anything. If he already knows he is going to do it, there is no need for predestination. It doesn’t do anything; it doesn’t serve any purpose. I think this kind of naïve Arminian view that says what I just explained really is not even a reasonable option though it is a very popular view among, I think, folks who haven’t studied this in much depth.


What we’ll do next time is look at Romans 8:28-30 and see how the Arminian will understand general and special calling and also election and predestination in this passage.[3]

[1] 5:00

[2] 9:55

[3] Total Running Time: 15:01 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)