How does a Wesleyan deal with predestination and election?

My favorite preacher Jonathan Martin covered Romans 8 a couple of weekends ago in his sermon “Nor Things to Come.” It talks about both predestination and election, which are not popular words in the Wesleyan tradition that I share with Jonathan. I really liked what he did with them so I wanted to share very briefly. I think that our predestination and election are good news when we read them the way they are intended to be shared: as a promise. It’s when you add a bunch of extra-Biblical speculation about the negative shadow of predestination and election that the mischief happens.

I. Predestination
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

According to Jonathan, predestination is “not about God choosing who’s going to be on his dodgeball team,” but about “God’s promise to complete the work he started in you.” I really like that way of understanding it. It makes complete sense particularly in this context. Verse 26 has just told us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” As a pastor, when people are having a crisis of faith, I tell them that God has grabbed hold of them and He isn’t going to let go.

The way for us to persevere is to trust that God will bring His work to completion in us. Now if somebody doesn’t persevere, I’m not going to say that goes to show that God chose to reject them before time. No, it means that they didn’t trust God’s promise. And furthermore, it’s ridiculous to talk about that in the hypothetical because who am I to know who perseveres and who doesn’t. I can get along with responsible Calvinists who simply want to affirm that we make it because God guarantees it; I’ve just got a problem with the ones who want to claim higher theological ground by deliberately presenting an ugly depiction of God that others can’t accept.

II. Election
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Romans 8:33

The way that Jonathan describes election is to say it’s God “choosing some people to be the light that draws other people to Him.” I think that way of putting it does justice to Israel’s vocation as the original elect to be a blessing to all nations. The purpose of this particular verse is to say if God has justified you through Christ, you have been set free from any charge against you. It’s interesting to note that God, at least here, is defending us against other peoples’ charges as opposed to dropping His own charges.

There is of course a perverse way of reading this to say that I can get away with anything now that I’ve been justified. This flows right out of the popular evangelical theology in some circles that says nonsense like “God no longer sees your sin; He just sees Jesus’ blood.” I always think of the two “born-again” genocidal dictators Charles Taylor of Liberia and Efrain Rios-Montt of Guatemala. Rios-Montt was an ordained Pentecostal minister in addition to being a general who took over his government. He was holding prayer revivals in the capital city while his death squads butchered the Mayans in the hills. When Charles Taylor went on trial, his “born-again” faith was attested fervently by televangelist Pat Robertson, whom he helped to establish diamond mines that Robertson ran under the false pretenses of an organization called Operation Blessing.

So what happens to people like Taylor and Rios-Montt or for that matter my unrepentant arm-trafficking fellow Virginian Oliver North, who is also a “born-again” Christian? What if they can justify their genocidal actions with perfect sincerity and say they were just fighting the “communist” bad guys like Ollie did during the Iran-Contra hearings to the cheers of millions of red-blooded Americans across the country? I need for them to have to face the music one day, whatever that looks like. I’m horrified by the thought of a nihilistic schema of imputed righteousness applied to their cases. I think that having a presumptuous attitude about God’s justification is indicative of one’s lack of justification. Or perhaps it’s the case that God allows us to un-elect ourselves with our self-justification.

Of course, there I go speculating like I said we shouldn’t do. Really there are two aspects of election that we need to care about: 1) We have a vocation to be a light to the world as God’s people. 2) If God has claimed us, no enemy has any dominion over us. I know that God is just and perfectly loving to me and all people. I know that I will make it because of Him. That’s all I need to say about my predestination and election.

13 thoughts on “How does a Wesleyan deal with predestination and election?

  1. Is someone else’s Salvation dependent on YOU?

    One of the biggest criticisms of the Lutheran (and Calvinist) position on the Predestination of the Elect is that it removes the motivation to spread the Gospel/to do missionary work. “If God has already chosen who will be saved, why bother spending your time preaching the Gospel to sinners? God will take care of it, I don’t need to worry about it.”

    It is true that Lutherans believe that God has already chosen those who will be saved (but they do NOT believe that God has predestined anyone to hell, regardless of what some people believe Luther may have said at one point in his life). It is also true that we Lutheranws believe that sinners do not have a free will to choose God. So no matter how hard we try to convince sinners of their need for a Savior, if God has not predestined them for salvation, they will NOT believe, they will not be saved.

    The advocates of Free Will Theology say that a sinner IS capable of choosing God. Therefore, it is our job as Christians to witness to every human being with whom we come into contact in our daily lives, because our efforts may be the trigger for them to “accept” Christ.” These Christians base their belief on the passage of Scripture that states, “for whom he did foreknow, those he did predestine…”. They take this to mean that God’s predestination is based on God foreknowing that at some point in the future, that a particular person would make a free will decision to believe in Christ.

    Lutherans and Calvinists say that this is impossible since Romans chapter 3 tells us that no one seeks God. Making a decision for God is “seeking” God, and therefore an impossibility according to God’s Word.

    But are we Lutherans really off the hook when it comes to sharing the Gospel? It is true, we should do be out preaching the Gospel to our neighbors because Christ commands it, but, really, what are the consequences of our disobedience on this one issue? A slap on the wrist when we get to heaven, but no direct consequences for the “un-elect” person to whom we failed to share the Good News?

    We Lutherans state that we do not know what criteria God used to choose/predestine those who will be saved. But I would like to propose this idea: Yes, it is true that a particular person’s election is not dependent on HIS decision to believe since Romans chapter 3 states that this is impossible. But…is it possible that this person’s election is dependent on God foreknowing that YOU would obey his command to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, and in particular, he foresaw that YOU would share the Gospel with this individual, and based on YOU being faithful/obedient and sharing the Good News with that person, God chose/elected that person to be saved??

    To believe this would certainly increase our motivation as Lutherans to share the Gospel instead of sitting at home enjoying the blessings of salvation all to ourselves. (Maybe we should share this idea with our Calvinist Christian brothers and sisters to light the “evangelism fire” underneath their behinds also.)

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  2. Pingback: Worldviewism and the nature of truth | Mercy not Sacrifice

  3. Funny enough, that particular church might as well also go by the acronym BFG. Here in Ohio, our statute says that one may not bring a firearm into any church, unless the church has an explicit policy permitting it. The pastor of this particular church encourages the men to carry their loaded guns in church. I know people who chose that particular IFB congregation for its BFG policy.

  4. I recently saw a YouTube video of a missionary preaching at an IFB church declare, “You couldn’t get into Hell if you tried!” I found his remark disturbing. Seems to my memory he got an “Amen!” or two from the crowd.

    Oh well. That sort of thing is nowhere to be found in the Christian confession I belong to.

    • I think that there are plenty of wicked people who set out, hearts full of hatred for God, to get into Hell, and I imagine nearly all succeed. (Like Richard Dawkins, who cursed God and pre-emptively announced that any deathbed conversion should be ignored.)

      If Hell is separation from God, then many people visit Hell in their dark hours, when they turn their hearts away from His divine love.

      Those who harden their hearts and blind themselves with sin will be blind in death; even those who believe in a lovey dovey God who does not “send” anyone to Hell, a Buddy Christ waiting with open arms to embrace all comers in love, have to admit that the spiritually blind, through no action of God’s own, will not be able to recognize Him. And so, separated from Him, will be in Hell.

  5. I like it.

    “Predestination” and “election” are such loaded terms. I am always happy to see someone lay out explanations of them that manage to navigate around the various theological landmines (aka, in my view, heresies) to arrive at a good sense understanding.

    Most of the time those explanations leave me asking, “Why focus on those terms at all?” Or, to put it another way, those explanations tend to water down the meaning of the terms until they can be easily subsumed into other theological points, whereupon it seems to me you may as well jettison those terms from your vocabulary and concentrate on making the same points using less-loaded terms.

    You, though, show a way to use the terms to uplift, which is awesome. I still think that they represent an unnecessary theological sidetracking, that the fixation on them has been damaging, but given that the ideas are out there they need to be addressed, and you do so ably.

    (ps- Thanks for turning back on full text feeds.)

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