What is Election?

Recently, a conversation has brood on a friend's blog (www.davedack.com/home.htm) about the idea of election. My friend has recently been reading Leslie Newbigin's book, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, which is a fascinating, and as my friend would say life-changing, book. In this book, Newbigin gives a fresh spin on the idea of election as it relates to the gospel and salvation. Some people get caught up in the argument of free-will vs. predestination/sovereignty of God/election. Although I find this argument to usually be very shallow and using an ever more shallow biblical hermeneutic that picks and chooses verses to build an argument for some western systematic theology that any good eastern Christian would find maddening, Newbigin gets to the heart of the matter about the issue of election and helps people get beyond the typical Calvin versus Arminean argument. Here is my edited comment from davedack.com:

I think that Newbigins idea of election differs
from all ideas presented. I think the main reason for this is that implicit in
most of the arguments mentioned, salvation is linked to the afterlife. This is
not so with Newbigin. Salvation is definately an eternal thing but hardly
anywhere in scripture can this be construed with the idea of afterlife (I'm not
saying that afterlife isn't mentioned. I'm just saying that salvation is rarely
if at all linked with it most of the time in scripture; thus, our emphasis on
this is overstated and should probably not be a part of our salvation language
most of the time). Salvation is about the redemption of humanity, the Earth, and
indeed all of creation. It is about healing and mending what was broken in Eden.
It is about bringing the kingdom of God (the rule of God or dominion of God) to
every point on the planet so that His will is enacted in everyday life among all
humankind. Election is about being chosen to bring this good news to the
nations. The good news is not something that is necessarily to be accepted or
rejected. It existance is not dependent upon humanity. Salvation is not either.
Humanity will be saved. Creation will be saved. Salvation is not about choice
(its not about God forcing some afterlife destination on people or about an
individual choosing God to get there either). Salvation is a matter of fact
about the future. Faith is about believing that this future will exist and
helping to bring it about on this planet, spreading it around, and living as a
parable of it in the present. Being elected is just like being elected
President. God has chosen a group of people (emphasis on a group and not on
individual) to spread a message that the kingdom of God is here and that its
rule is beginning to take place. It is a message of peace and love, of wholeness
and perfection, of eternal rather temporary. It is about telling the nations of
the Earth that God is coming and will renew all things when he does come. Its
about telling people that fresh new life is coming there way. At the end of
telling people this, they are not choosing whether they want this or not
(because it will come no matter what), instead they are choosing to become a
part of an elected community to spread the message and live out the kingdom in
the present.
I hope all of this is understood in the way it was intended. I
have tried to summarize my interpretation of Newbigin (which I hope has been

Disclaimer: No one should read any type of universalism into this post. The only way universalism could be found in this post is if one did not really read it. Universalism at its bottom line is all about the afterlife. Salvation is primarily about the kingdom of God being enacted on this earth.


  1. Your definition of election is what I would refer to as commissioned. We are commissioned by Christ to go out and spread the message. Everyone who hears and understands the message has a responsibility to proclaim what they have heard, and in whom they have been baptized. However, I think the doctrine of election as laid out by theologians is false, it seems as though you might too, though your post leaves it in a rather dissonant ambiguity. I see the election in scripture as though mankind has been the ones chosen to be collected for salvation, but that is where election stops, because we choose it out of our own free will.

    BTW, the idea that God has chosen some and not chosen others is a very pervasive theme in the new movie "Kingdom of Heaven," where men would rather kill the 'adversary' than evangelize him. I have posted about it, and it really connects with the idea of election.

  2. Justin, if it's shallow to you, the shallow thing is your understanding of everything it implicates. In fact I'm surprised you'd say something like that, or see nothing beyond freshman level "I have free will vs. no you don't" conversation. What you wrote is just a way to say you believe in election by making it something entirely different AND eastern. If you want to talk western, you should know western thought is exactly what newbies doing. Getting excited about something that seems foreign. I'm sure you probably think we're all ignorantly in the box again. Hopefully I'll be free like you someday.

  3. James, I am sorry for the offense that you have taken. I do want you to notice some things in my post though that I think you applied to yourself. First, I said, "Some people get caught up in the argument of free-will vs. predestination/sovereignty of God/election. " Often, indeed, many people do get caught up in this freshman level understanding. I think you think that as well. You and I encounter so many people who make the argument about that. I never intended for the comment to be directed at you. I know that your understanding of the issue is far more sophisticated and intelligent than that simple dichotomy. Second, I never said that Newbigins thought was Eastern. I just wanted to make the point that the freshman level argument that many pose would be thoroughly critiqued by Eastern Christianity, and that is something that people need to notice. However, I do feel that Eastern thought would be more kind to Newbigins thoughts. As far as reformed goes, Newbigins thoughts fall in great with Karl Barth's idea. Newbigins entire theological system is in many ways the practice of Barth's theology in everyday life.
    Third, I do not think that you are in the box. However, I do feel that most Christians I run into are in a box and that they have placed it on their heads so they can't see.
    As far as being free... I think you are free... just like me.

  4. Pat, thanks for your comment. I actually do not usually feel that many theologians get it wrong; although, I do feel that the pop theology books that many Christians read do in fact get it wrong. Most of the literature in theological journals and in what I call "higher acadameia" (sp?) do have a variety of other understandings from the typical dichotomy that is usually given to the masses. I do see two ideas of election in scripture-- one being general and the other specific. I think as you do that humanity as a collective has been elected. On the otherside of that coin is specific people and groups being chosen to disciple that general humanity.
    I too saw Kingdom of Heaven. Fascinating movie! I think this movie is a great story of how the gospel and Christianity can be taken captive by the powers both in society and in the church and be manipulated for wrong things. Think of how many ways that is occurring today!

  5. Ken, I'm sorry if I misrepresented you. After reading something else yesterday right before I came to your site, saying the typical view is stupid and uneducated, and anyone who follows it isn't as enlighted as the poster, I was feeling attacked sensative.

  6. And sad for the other poster.

  7. James,
    I normally don't comment on Justin's blog but you were out of line and defensive. I read the post and know Justin and he didn't even come close to insinuating what you took offense to. I would guess that he didn't have any particular person in mind when writing nor did he mean insult to anyone. No big deal, but easy does it. That goes for all you young men who so eagerly blog and debate. Careful not to spend so much energy offending and apologizing online that you ignore true relationship.

  8. Justin, I don't know why I called you ken.

    Sarah, you're married to Justin but I don't think you know who I am, and I don't mean that in a "you don't even know me!" kind of way. Your advice suggests the importance of knowing someone in figuring out if I was coming out of thin air or not. In a different conversation comments were made to the effect of being in an intellectual box. That's where I was coming from.

    Off to debate on some other blog... (didn't know I did that...)

  9. James,
    I think that you and Justin do know each other and you are right, I don't know you. I just felt that you really didn't understand what he was saying (regardless of how well you know him or not). My point though was a caution to everyone not just you. I say the same thing to Justin all of the time because yes I think many times you all are debating, which isn't bad but it requires tact in order to be constructive. It is the same old discussion we hear all the time about how e-mail has broken down communication because people either say things they shouldn't in writing or they are constantly misunderstodd and everyone ends up having to explain themselves. Oh, two other things...I was aware of the other conversation going on on Dave's blog when I posted and it makes a ton more sense that your last comment was suppossed to be to Justin and not Ken :). If I would have picked up on that I probably wouldn't have said anything because you basically countered yourself. Peace.