Why Conditional Election?

Ultimately, the main point of disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians comes down to two main theological elements: predestination and election. In fact, Arminius himself declared these were the two points of disagreement between his theology and Calvin’s theology.[1] Arminius made some major claims against the predestinarian nature of Calvin’s theology and specifically, determinism:

“Great is the use of this doctrine as it establishes the grace of God when it ascribes the whole praise of our vocation, justification, adoption, and glorification, to the mercy of God alone, and takes it entirely away from our own strengths, works and merits (Rom 8:29).”

Arminius’ comments above show us that his beliefs regarding predestination actually involve one who has already become regenerate. Much to the dismay of our Calvinist brethren, Arminius claims that Romans 8 is geared toward believers rather than those who have yet to be regenerate. Instead, Arminius argues, in the aforementioned quote above, that Romans 8:28-29 deals with the predestination of the one who has been regenerated rather than the unbeliever.

F. Leroy Forlines has a similar message in his book:

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.”[2]

In other words, Forlines refutes the Calvinistic understanding of predestination to show that God’s foreknowledge is just that – knowledge before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) of who would believe in Christ and who would not believe in Christ. Instead of there only being a certain group of people whom God will save, Arminius (and Forlines) make the claim that God’s foreknowledge is his eternal decree of those who are found in Christ to be redeemed by His blood and regenerated by His Spirit.

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.” -Leroy Forlines

Election

Yet, the most important doctrine for the classical Arminian framework of theology is the doctrine of conditional election. Election is the most important doctrine because it coheres with one of the staple beliefs for classical Arminianism – a freedom of the will. Freedom of the will is much different than many Calvinist theologians describe of Arminianism. Instead of this freedom being a human participation in salvation, it is the freedom to think with our minds, feel with our hearts, and act with our wills. Forlines has named this idea the total personality. He explains that the total personality is the way in which human beings bear God’s image.[3]

If human beings are total persons (thinking, feeling, and acting beings), then their wills are acted upon by themselves rather than someone else, and to impose someone else’s will upon another human being’s will to act actually devalues what it means to be a person. And since human beings are total persons, Free Will Baptists (and all classical Arminians) proffer that election has four distinct characteristics[4]:

Election is Christo-Centric. One of the central elements of election, regardless of your theological viewpoint, is that election only takes place in Christ. Ephesians 1:4 shows us this that those whom God chose before the foundation of the world are chosen in Him. Arminius claims this reality in his writings, that the biblical order of salvation is vitally important to the biblical understanding of election (we will come back to this).

Election is personal and individual. In all cases within the storyline of Scripture, election is always based upon individual election rather than corporate. Of course, we know that the children of Israel were an exception in the Old Testament, but we also understand that many of Israel were not saved. In fact, Paul references this problem in Romans 9:7 saying, “nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” In other words, Paul shows us here that election is based upon faith in Christ. Even passages like Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 8:29-30, we find individual believers being elected to salvation, not groups. Arminius also argued that you do not see groups named in the Lamb’s Book of Life, only individuals (Rev. 17:8).

Election is eternal. Arminius said, “God does nothing in time, which he has not decreed to do from all eternity…If it were otherwise, God might be charged with mutability.”[5] It might be refreshing to our Calvinists brothers and sisters to hear from us that we believe in eternal election. God is not unsure of who are His children and who are not, He has known from eternity past.

Election is conditional. Of course, this is the main point of disagreement for Calvinists and Arminians – whether election is unconditional or conditional. I will not attempt to explain the Calvinist understanding of unconditional election, but instead will simply flesh out the classical Arminian understanding of conditional election in brevity. Essentially, the disagreement boils down to how one views the order of salvation.

If election to salvation precedes faith (Calvinist thought), then, according to Forlines, human beings are sanctified before they are ever justified, which he asserts is illogical within the parameters of Scripture[6]. Therefore, the biblical order of salvation should go as follows: faith, justification, regeneration, sanctification, glorification. So, then, how can God elect anyone? This, of course, brings us to another definition of a word that is thrown around and abused quite a bit in modern-day Christianity: foreknowledge.

Picirilli defines God’s foreknowledge in this way:

“God eternally and necessarily possesses knowledge of all possibilities.”[7]

So, according to Picirilli and Forlines, God knows (and has known) who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation , which in now way minimizes his omniscience and foreknowledge, but instead proposes the idea that God’s foreknowledge allows him to see through the corridors of time who will meet the condition of salvation: faith in Christ.

Of course, we must address a couple of talking points. First, classical Arminians believe that salvation is completely and only a work of Jesus Christ. Though we do believer that election is conditioned upon faith in Christ, we do not believe anyone can have faith in Christ unless the Holy Spirit draws them to himself and convicts them of sin and convinces them of the truth. Second, we understand that faith is not a “work” of salvation. Instead of faith being a “work” on man’s part, it is simply a response to the drawing power and conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is adamantly clear that the way to salvation is two things: repentance AND belief.

Conclusion

So, why conditional election? Ultimately, we believe in conditional election because it seems to fit with the theology of Scripture as a whole. However, we also see that God has created us with minds, hearts, and wills that allow human beings to respond to his influencing and convicting power and Spirit. Conditional election does not minimize a person’s “personhood,” but instead works alongside it to allow for a response.

“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.”

Romans 4:13-16a


[1] Pinson makes this claim in his work, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House, 2015).

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, “Romans” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 236.

[3] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 139.

[4] These four characteristics of Election are taken from, Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002).

[5] Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 26.

[6] Forlines, Quest, 236.

[7] Ibid., 52.

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