The 3rd Rail: Unconditional Election is Not Restrictive

By Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

The posts in this series are not in any particular order; but it may be helpful, before reading this one, to read the following posts: “The 3rd Rail: Inability of the Will is Never Literal,” and, “The 3rd Rail: The Fallacy of a Restrictive Foreknowledge.”

As we have seen in previous posts in this series, God’s knowledge of all events from outside of time does not in any way restrict man’s freedom to freely act—that, in fact, we retroactively write God’s foreknowledge with every decision we make. Many may balk at this because it sounds so foreign to our linear, temporal thinking; but we cannot expect a timeless God to interact with our world in ways that we comfortably understand. If we dare to ask tough questions, then we ought not to be satisfied with pat answers, but should strive beyond comfort to glimpse the truth, even if it be unexpected. But this is not to say that God is not in control. Middlers affirm that God determines the destinies of men—we simply deny that He does this against or in spite of their free will.

Part of the clarity offered by the middle is that of a more immanent grace—a full, two-sided compatibilism[1] wherein God works out His plan through the free will of men. When the inability of the sinful will is properly seen as figurative rather than absolute, with unwillingness, rather than inability, as the impediment to be overcome by grace, then divine persuasion (by means of influences toward God) can be seen as working to some degree in every man’s life. This leaves all men responsible for their own destruction, while God remains in control of the ultimate outcomes.

God knows exactly the amount and kinds of influence needed to bring any man to surrender in genuine faith in Christ. No man is too hard for God, and the influence needed differs between men. Ultimately, it is God who decides whether to provide exactly that level of influence that He knows will succeed, or to allow a level that will fall short. But either way, it is men who freely decide to reject or embrace God.

Unbelief is the manifestation of spiritual rebellion, and is a sin for which men are accountable. In Gen. 50:20, Joseph told his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” What men intend for evil, God uses for His good. But that same God “will render to each one according to his works…” (Rom. 2:6 ESV). They are accountable due to the freedom by which they choose to sin.

While sinners cannot escape their nature and avoid sin all together, the fact that men frequently resist temptation (whether in response to the threat of civil justice, the threat of social ostracism, the result of good parental upbringing, or the convictions of conscience) proves that sin in any particular moment is not without the possibility of choosing otherwise.

Sinners cannot escape the ramifications of the better path not taken, as it hangs over them as a judgment. It was not God who put them on the wrong path but their own sinfulness. Even nonelect sinners would have been saved if they had but been willing to lay down their rebellious unbelief and embrace Christ.

Every man has been graciously given at least a minimum of revelation of the truth of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23;—and many have been given much more), so any nonelect man who might choose to believe would have only God’s grace to credit for his conversion (and if he did not yet have the gospel, God would send a missionary as He did for Cornelius in Acts 10). And since it is impossible to get behind, beneath, or prior to God’s foreknowledge and plan, any nonelect sinner who might choose to believe would be included in God’s elect from eternity past.

In the same way, believers can take no ease in the fact that God will only save those whom He has already elected. There are many who perish for lack of a little more influence—such as one more witness or presentation of the gospel that would have been enough to bring them to their knees in repentant faith. There will be many who could have been reached and might have been converted but were not, because the laborers were few. Jesus said, in Luke 10:2 ESV, “And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

We know from history and experience that when the gospel comes to a people, country or land, people are converted to Christ. To be sure, our faith is always a minority; but time and again, when the gospel is preached, there are those who believe. Conversely, we also know that where the gospel does not yet reach, no one believes or is saved. Are we so naïve as to think that no one ever perished except those who would not have believed even if they had heard the gospel?—that no one who would have believed if they had been given more reasons ever perished without that needed influence?

Jesus denounced some unbelieving cities in His day because Sodom, Tyre and Sidon would have repented and believed if they had seen His works:

Matt. 11:21-24 ESV
21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Just as the people of the destroyed cities will condemn those cities that saw Jesus’ works and still did not believe, we can expect that there will be many who perish but would have believed if they had benefitted from the same amount of influences toward God as others received. God is indeed in control; but never in such a way as to absolve men of their sin, their unbelief, or their failures—not even when it comes to believers. If there are any problems in putting these two together, they are merely problems in our understanding of the mystery of God’s ways; but mystery is no disproof of the proposition. Had it not been for the sin of the race in Adam, all men would have been in righteous relationship with God; and that sin of Adam has far-reaching effects, even among the household of God.

The urgency of proclaiming the gospel must come from more than a mere desire to obey the Great Commission. The true urgency of the gospel entails an understanding that men’s lives really do hang in the balance—that men will perish or be saved based in large part on our efforts to reach them with the gospel in word, in witness and in example. An important component of the urgency of the gospel is the implication that God’s unconditional election in eternity past is not a limitation on whom may be saved as a result of our efforts, but a mysterious correlation to how much labor we are willing to apply to the fields that are “white with harvest.”

[1] The compatibilism of Baptist Centrists is a true compatibilism that acknowledges the freedom of men to “choose otherwise” while maintaining the certainty that men will only choose in accordance with God’s plan. Primarily, compatibilism speaks of determinism being compatible with free will. Because Calvinists limit the idea to the “one-way” direction of being free to do only what one desires, the compatibilism that they typically claim is one-sided and not the full compatibilism of a full freedom to do otherwise—it retains the language of compatibilism while eliminating much of its substance.

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5 Responses to The 3rd Rail: Unconditional Election is Not Restrictive

  1. parsonsmike says:

    Follow up comment.
    Does the philosophy put forward in the OP line up with the Word of God?
    Ken said:
    “As we have seen in previous posts in this series, God’s knowledge of all events from outside of time does not in any way restrict man’s freedom to freely act—that, in fact, we retroactively write God’s foreknowledge with every decision we make.”
    Beside the base contradiction inherent in the above statement that says that we write God’s foreknowledge retroactively which of course says that God’s foreknowledge is a time based knowledge when it also says that His knowledge is outside of time [so how can it ever be RETRO?], you will find no Scriptural support for this idea at all.
    God knows what will happen before it happens. Thus before we do anything [and thus have not yet written it in God’s foreknowledge] God already knows what will occur. The kind of thinking employed here by the OP lowers God to the level of man. It philosophizes on just how God could know the future and then frames God with man. Is there anything in The Bible to support such a notion as given in the OP? Nope.
    Why then philosophize? Usually it is because one has an agenda that is unsupported by the Word of God but sometimes this one thinks he has it all figured out, so that he can go ahead and teach ‘truth’ according to himself instead of Truth according ti the Word of God.
    Lets look at some Scriptures.
    Ephesians 1: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
    Note that believers or believers-to-be were chosen before time. By the will of God. Could there be in Heaven anyone not chosen before time? No. Then the book of Ephesians would not be for them. And if not Ephesians, then no NT writing to believers would be for them. Or, or, which book of the NT is fr believers not chosen from before time?
    And could we as some seems to say, that others besides those God has willed could be saved? No. And for various evident reasons.
    Ephesians 1 continues:
    In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 

    The “we” are the ones chosen from before the world and predestined to adoption as children of God. Could someone else ‘sneak’ into the family of God? uh, no. We are saved because God not only chose us, but lavished on us the riches of His grace, including Him making known to us the mystery of His will because of His kind intentions toward us.
    Furthermore we read of the purpose of God and that God works out all things after the counsel of His will.

    Note that it says all things.
    Note that it says after the counsel of His will.
    Note that it doesn’t say according to the choices of man.

    How can one read Ephesians 1 and then write this OP?

    Note that it says what the end result is for this summing up of all things in Christ: that we, that is believers, would be to the praise of His glory.

    Or simply God had a plan. He created the world and is working His plan out. This does not mean He makes us choose one way or the other, but that God is working everything out according to His will with the purpose of creating a FAMILY [we are adopted as His children] to the praise of Him!

    God is in the world, moving through the will of every person, and in every event, and in every circumstance carrying out His plan, working it all to the counsel of His will, and also working it out to the good all things for those He has chosen from before the world began. [Romans 8:28]

    more on how the OP contradicts the Bible in next reply

    • Ken Hamrick says:

      You said:

      Beside the base contradiction inherent in the above statement that says that we write God’s foreknowledge retroactively which of course says that God’s foreknowledge is a time based knowledge when it also says that His knowledge is outside of time [so how can it ever be RETRO?], …

      Your style or method of critique is without any grace whatsoever? Where’s the friendly benefit of a doubt? Of course, Mike, I know that “fore-” and “retro-” are incongruent with atemporal knowledge. But I’m trying to bring readers along toward atemporal thinking and out of what I know is a very tough rut, that of sequential, temporal assumption and thinking. And since the position that I’m opposing is quite happy to remain in that rut–and indeed, relies upon it for the strength of their argument–then I find the need to use their temporal terms as they use them in order to get them to understand. It’s as if I’m saying, “What you call foreknowledge would have to be retroactively written by our every decision,” but what in fact I’m saying is that God has atemporal knowledge that allows Him to see our actions and decision throughout time as we do them. So there is no contradiction, and I’ll get to the rest later.

  2. Ken Hamrick says:

    You stated:

    …but sometimes this one thinks he has it all figured out, so that he can go ahead and teach ‘truth’ according to himself instead of Truth according ti the Word of God.

    Any further claims to read my thoughts or motives will be edited/moderated. You are encouraged to engage substantively, not emotionally. I will respond when I have time.

    • parsonsmike says:

      Is it true that sometimes people do that?
      If it is true then why do you think it must mean you?

      • Ken Hamrick says:

        If you had said, “…but sometimes one thinks…” then that would have been fine; but to say, “…but sometimes this one thinks…” sounds like it refers to the author of the post that you are commenting on. If you meant something else, that does not come out in the natural reading of it.

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