Category Archives: Election

Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

(image courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to get ignorance on Internet forums about the content of Arminian theology. Professor of theology and an Arminian in beliefs, Roger E. Olson,[1] told of a student who made an appointment to see him and announced, ‘Professor Olson, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not a Christian’. From where did the student get this idea? He responded: ‘Because my pastor says Arminians aren’t Christians’. Olson said that this ‘pastor was a well-known Calvinist who later distanced himself from that statement’ (Olson 2006:9).

Olson told of his attending an evangelical Baptist seminary where Arminianism was used in a pejorative sense and equated with the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. Of one of his professors, James Montgomery Boice, an eminent Calvinist, Olson said that ‘I perceived he had already made up his mind that my church’s theology was heretical’ (Olson 2006:8).

Olson said that he wrote his 2006 publication because ‘I want to clear up confusion about Arminian theology and respond to the main myths and misconceptions about it that are widespread in evangelicalism today’ (Olson 2006:10).

James Arminius 2.jpg

Jacob Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Arminianism does not affirm election – says an opponent

What was the anti-Arminian sentiment promoted on that Internet Christian forum? There are often straw men logical fallacies used to oppose Arminians.

A straw man fallacy ‘is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position….This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person’ (The Nizkor Project). So this false or distorted view of Arminian theology turns up in various ‘dresses’.

Here is some ignorance about Arminianism I encountered on this forum. One fellow, a known Calvinist, wrote: ‘Calvinism affirms free will, problem is arminianism does not affirm election, even though it is really explicit’.[2]

This kind of ignorance is difficult to tolerate. My response, as a convinced Reformed Arminian, was,[3] ‘This is a false statement as the Society of Evangelical Arminians article provides evidence to counter your argument that Arminians do not believe in election. See: ‘The FACTS of Salvation, C: Conditional Election‘. Part of this explanation on the Arminian view of condition election is,

For election to be conditional means that God’s choice of those he will save has something to do with them, that part of his reason for choosing them was something about them. Concerning election unto salvation, the Bible teaches that God chooses for salvation those who believe in Jesus Christ and therefore become united to him, making election conditional on faith in Christ.

Desiring the salvation of all, providing atonement for all people, and taking the initiative to bring all people to salvation by issuing forth the gospel and enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith (see “Atonement for All” and “Freed to Believe” above), God chooses to save those who believe in the gospel/Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47, 50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5, 9, 11, 13, 16, 20-24; 5:1-2; 9:30-33; 10:4, 9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14, 18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). This clear and basic biblical truth is tantamount to saying that election unto salvation is conditional on faith. Just as salvation is by faith (e.g., Eph 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith”), so election for salvation is by faith, a point brought out explicitly in 2 Thes 2:13 – “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (NASB; note: “God has chosen you . . . through . . . faith in the truth”; on the grammar of this verse, see here).

That someone could promote the view that Arminians do not believe in election affirms that the person does not know Arminian theology or he is saying that Arminians do not believe his Calvinistic view of election. I asked him: Do you mean that Arminians do not believe in unconditional election according to a Calvinistic view?’

I was in conversation with someone at a Presbyterian Church event in which this person was speaking of the Dutch Reformed Church in a certain country that had compromised with some churches becoming theologically liberal and others promoting Arminianism.

John Calvin (image courtesy clker)

Calvinism affirms free will – says a Calvinist

As indicated above, the Calvinist on the forum stated, ‘Calvinism affirms free will, problem is arminianism does not affirm election’. What exactly does a Calvinist mean by free will? R C Sproul, a Calvinist, is utterly confusing in his explanation: ‘It is important to note that even the unregenerate are never forced against their will. Their wills are changed without their permission, but they are always free to choose as they will. Thus we are indeed free to do as we will. We are not free, however, to choose or select our nature’ (Sproul 1992:180).

Did you get it from Sproul?

  • The unregenerate are never forced against their will;
  • BUT, their wills are changed without their permission;
  • However, they are always free to choose as they will.

This, in my understanding, is a manipulation of words – a question begging fallacy (circular reasoning) – where Calvinism asserts that free will means,

  • Unbelievers are never forced to do anything against their will,
  • BUT, they are forced to change without their permission;
  • And this is described as the unregenerate being ‘always free to choose’.

What is a question begging fallacy?

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true….

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim (The Nizkor Project).

Thus Sproul, the Calvinist, assumes that unbelievers are not forced to do anything against their wills and concluded that they are ‘always free to choose’ (that’s circular reasoning). But in between he throws in the contradiction that those who are never forced to do anything are then forced to change without their permission. Of course, he doesn’t use the language ‘forced to change’, but ‘changed without their permission’. But the latter is the same meaning as forced or coerced to change. Imagine it – deterministic free will?

Charles Spurgeon in his sermon, ‘Free will – a slave’, was opposing the Arminian theology when he preached,

‘It has already been proved beyond all controversy that free-will is nonsense. Freedom cannot belong to will any more than ponderability can belong to electricity. They are altogether different things. Free agency we may believe in, but free-will is simply ridiculous. The will is well known by all to be directed by the understanding, to be moved by motives, to be guided by other parts of the soul, and to be a secondary thing (Sermon No. 52).[4]

Olson, an Arminian, explains this Calvinistic view of free will: ‘Insofar as they use the term free will positively, Calvinists mean what philosophers call compatibilist free will – free will that is compatible with determination. Free will is simply doing what someone wants to do even if that is determined by some force internal or external to the person willing’ (Olson 2006:20, emphasis in original).

Imagine it? Deterministic free will.

clip_image002(image courtesy canstock)

By contrast, an Arminian supports this view: ‘Noncompatibilist free will is the free agency that allows persons to do otherwise then they do; it may also be called libertarian free will…. Arminians believe such libertarian free will in spiritual matters is a gift of God through prevenient grace – grace that precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will toward God’ (Olson 2006:20).

Arminians do not believe in total depravity – so says one

There was a discussion between individuals on the differences between Calvinists and Arminians. One fellow claimed, ‘What really distinguishes the two isn’t free will and/or election, but total depravity. Calvinists hold to it, Arminians don’t…. In my opinion they are so close to each other already, they basically could both be said to be true at the same time, except for total depravity’.[5]

This was like waving a red flag before a bull to this Reformed Arminian because it is a false understanding of Arminian theology on total depravity. Therefore, I replied:[6] I do wish you knew the doctrines of Arminianism. This statement demonstrates that you do not. Please take a read of this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians: ‘The FACTS of Salvation,T: Total Depravity‘.

Article 3 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance states:

Article 3
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.

What did Jacobus Arminius believe about Total Depravity? In one of his disputations, he wrote:

V. In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with “righteousness and true holiness,” and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him. This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Gen. i. 26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (ii, 17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Ephes. iv. 24, Col. iii. 10.)

VI. But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life,) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him. Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is Under The Dominion of Sin. For “to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,” (Rom. vi. 16,) and “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,” and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet. ii. 19.)

VII. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man (Arminius 1977:525-526).

Jacobus (James) Arminius and Reformed/Classical Arminians most certainly believed in Total Depravity.

Therefore, this person’s statement here about total depravity not being an Arminian doctrine, is false.

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

See also my articles:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Elected to salvation and/or damnation?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

Works consulted

Arminius, J. 1977. The writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, Public disputations of Arminius, Disputation 11 (On the free will of man and its powers), 523-531. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 21 April 2014).

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


[1] Olson is professor of theology at George W Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (a Southern Baptist institution) (Olson 2006:back flap).

[2] Christian 2014. Soteriology DEBATE, ‘I believe arminianism and calvinism are both true at the same time!’, abacabb#2, available at: (Accessed 21 April 2014).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#30.

[4] This was preached at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark (UK), 2 December 1855.

[5] Ibid., Ignatius21#19.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#32.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2016.

Elected to salvation and/or damnation?

Green Salvation Button  Man falling

(images courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D. Gear

What is the biblical teaching on election?

Does it matter whether you or I differ in our beliefs on how ‘election’ or ‘predestination’ to salvation works? You might think this has no relevance to the people in the pew or on the street. However, what your view is on election / predestination will have a practical impact on your approach to evangelism.

I used to preach for a Calvinistic church that was not growing, but was diminishing in the number of people who attended. I asked the pastor about his view on evangelism. His response was: ‘God will bring them in’. This had a very practical impact on the lack of evangelism in that church. His view of unconditional election caused that church and him to go silent on evangelism in their community. Why? To use the pastor’s words, ‘God will bring them in’. How was it that God was not bringing them in to that church?

Let’s check into the two most prominent views of election.

What’s the difference between election and predestination? Not much! Kevin DeYoung (a Calvinistic Reformed pastor) explained:

The terms election and predestination are often used interchangeably, both referring to God’s gracious decree whereby he chooses some for eternal life. In Romans 8:30 Paul speaks of those whom God has predestined, called, justified, and (in the end) glorified. In 8:33 Paul references “the elect,” apparently a synonym for the predestined ones described a few verses earlier.

A sharp distinction between the two words is not warranted from Scripture, but if there is a distinction to be made, predestination is the general term for God’s sovereign ordaining, while election is the specific term for God choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world. That is, predestination is the broader category of which election is the smaller subset (DeYoung 2010).

In this brief article, I’ll be treating election and predestination as interchangeable terms.

Why bother about the differences between Arminians and Calvinists in their theological understandings of how salvation happens? Here’s how they differ:


John Calvin by Holbein.png

John Calvin (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Calvinism: Matthew Slick explains,

Unconditional Election:
God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21) (Slick 2012).

James Arminius 2.jpg

Jacob Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

Arminianism: The Society of Evangelical Arminians states:

The FACTS of Salvation C: Conditional Election

Desiring the salvation of all, providing atonement for all people, and taking the initiative to bring all people to salvation by issuing forth the gospel and enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith (see “Atonement for All” and “Freed to Believe” above), God chooses to save those who believe in the gospel/Jesus Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47, 50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5, 9, 11, 13, 16, 20-24; 5:1-2; 9:30-33; 10:4, 9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9, 11, 14, 22, 24, 26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14, 18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20). This clear and basic biblical truth is tantamount to saying that election unto salvation is conditional on faith. Just as salvation is by faith (e.g., Eph 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith”), so election for salvation is by faith, a point brought out explicitly in 2 Thes 2:13 – “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (NASB; note: “God has chosen you . . . through . . . faith in the truth”; on the grammar of this verse, see here) (Society of Evangelical Arminians 2013).

So there is quite a difference in these two views of election. They could be summarised as: God picks people for salvation and they cannot refuse; his election is unconditional (Calvinism) versus God picks people for salvation and they can accept or reject the offer of salvation because they are freed to believe or refuse God’s offer, based on God’s grace (Arminianism). In election God determined what would happen before the foundation of the world (Calvinism), while in Arminianism God has foreknowledge of what will happen but human beings’ free will is not removed.

A blaze of disagreements

If you want to enter a firestorm of theological controversy, start talking about election and predestination in a church group or in an online Christian forum. The sparks are likely to fly both ways. Here are a few prominent proponents who are coming from different sides of the theological fences to demonstrate how conflicting the views can be:

Roger E Olson is an avid and convinced Arminian. He wrote of

the controversy between Calvinism and Arminianism. While both are forms of Protestantism (even if some Calvinists deny that Arminianism is authentically Protestant), they take very different approaches to the doctrines of salvation (soteriology). Both believe in salvation by grace through faith alone (sola gratia et fides) as opposed to salvation by grace through faith and good works. Both deny that any part of salvation can be based on human merit. Both affirm the sole supreme authority of Scripture (sola sciptura) and the priesthood of all believers. Arminius and all of his followers were and are Protestants to the core. However, Arminians have always opposed belief in unconditional reprobation – God’s selection of some persons to spend eternity in hell. Because they oppose that, they also oppose unconditional election – the selection of some persons out of the mass of sinners to be saved apart from anything God sees in them. According to Arminians the two are inextricably linked; it is impossible to affirm unconditional selection of some to salvation without at the same time affirming unconditional selection of some to reprobation, which, Arminians believe, impugns the character of God (Olson 2006:14-15; also HERE).

Dr. Olson

Roger E. Olson (photo courtesy George W. Truett Theological Seminary)

In another context, Olson stated:

All that is required for full salvation is a relaxation of the resistant will under the influence of God’s grace so that the person lets go of sin and self-righteousness and allows Christ’s death to become the only foundation for spiritual life. Was Arminius’s soteriology then synergistic? Yes, but not in the way that is often understood. Calvinists tend to regard synergism as equal cooperation between God and a human in salvation; thus the human is contributing something crucial and efficacious to salvation. But this is not Arminius’s synergism. Rather, his is an evangelical synergism that reserves all the power, ability and efficacy in salvation to grace, but allows humans the God-granted ability to resist or not resist it. The only ‘contribution’ humans make is non-resistance to grace. This is the same as accepting a gift.  Arminius could not fathom why a gift that must be freely received is no longer a gift, as Calvinists contend (Olson 2006:165; also HERE).

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).


Henry C Thiessen (photo courtesy Wheaton College)

Henry C Thiessen does not identify himself as an Arminian, but his views are sympathetic with those of Arminianism. I used his text when in a Bible college in the early 1970s in Australia where the teacher of theology was an Arminian. Thiessen provided this definition:

  1. The Definition of Election. By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace whereby he chose in Christ Jesus for salvation all those he foreknew would accept him. This is election in its redemptive aspect. The Scriptures also speak of an election to outward privileges (Luke 6:13, Judas; Acts 13:17; Rom. 9:4; 11:28, Israel) to sonship (Eph. 1;4, 5; Rom. 8:29, 33), and to a particular office (Moses and Aaron, Ps. 105:26; David, 1 Sam. 16:12; 20:30; Solomon, 1 Chron. 28:5; and the Apostles, Luke 6:13 – 16; John 6:70; Acts 1:2, 24; 9:15; 22:14). But we are here concerned with election as related to salvation, and so we analyze the above definition more fully.

(1) Election and Foreknowledge. Election is a sovereign act of God; He was under no obligation to elect anyone, since all had lost their standing before God. Even after Christ had died, God was not obliged to apply that salvation, except as He owed it to Christ to keep the agreement with him as to man’s salvation. Election is a sovereign act, because it was not due to any constraint laid upon God. It was an act in grace, in that He chose those who were utterly unworthy of salvation. Man deserved the exact opposite; but in His grace God chose to save some. He chose them ‘in Christ.’ He could not choose them in themselves because of their ill-desert; so He chose them in the merits of another. Furthermore, He chose those who He foreknew would accept Christ. The Scriptures definitely base God’s election on His foreknowledge: ‘Whom he foreknew, he also foreordained,… and whom He foreordained, them He also called’ (Rom. 8:29, 30); ‘to the elect… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Pet. 1: 1, 2). Although we are nowhere told what it is in the foreknowledge of God that determines His choice, the repeated teaching of Scripture that man is responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation necessitates our postulating that it is man’s reaction to the revelation that God has made of himself that is the basis of His election. May we repeat: Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation-bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. There is no merit in this transaction, as Buswell has clearly shown in his allegory of the captain who is beaten into unconsciousness by the crew on the deck of his vessel, if that captain is revived by restoratives and then accepts the proffered leadership of a captain from another vessel who has come to his rescue[1] (Thiessen 1949:344; also HERE).

But the Calvinist takes a very different view of election to salvation:

R. C. Sproul (cropped).jpg

R. C. Sproul (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

R C Sproul stated his view clearly:

What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God. Another way of saying it is this: From all eternity, before we even existed, God decided to save some members of the human race and to let the rest of the human race perish. God made a choice – He chose some individuals to be saved into everlasting blessedness in heaven and others He chose to pass over, to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell….

The Reformed view holds that, left to himself, no fallen person would ever choose God. Fallen people still have a free will and are able to choose what they desire. But the problem is that we have no desire for God and will not choose Christ unless first regenerated. Faith is a gift that comes out of rebirth. Only those who are elect will ever respond to the gospel in faith.

The elect do choose Christ, but only because they were first chosen by God (Sproul 1992:161-162: also HERE).

At least Sproul admitted that most Christians do not accept his view. He stated that ‘the non-Reformed view, held by the vast majority of Christians, is that God makes that choice on the basis of His foreknowledge. God chooses for eternal life those whom he knows will choose Him. This is called the prescient view of predestination because it rests on God’s foreknowledge of human decisions or acts’ (Sproul 1992:161, emphasis in original).


J. I. Packer (photo courtesy Regent College, Vancouver)

J I Packer, another Calvinistic Reformed stalwart, put it in terms of election:

The verb elect means “to select, or choose out.” The biblical doctrine of election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10). This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects. God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that he should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of his own Son to suffer as sin-bearer for the elect (Rom. 8:32).

The doctrine of election, like every truth about God, involves mystery and sometimes stirs controversy. But in Scripture it is a pastoral doctrine, brought in to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response (Packer 1993:149; also HERE).

What about those who are damned to hell (the reprobate)? Packer explained:

Reprobation is the name given to God’s eternal decision regarding those sinners whom he has not chosen for life. His decision is in essence a decision not to change them, as the elect are destined to be changed, but to leave them to sin as in their hearts they already want to do, and finally to judge them as they deserve for what they have done. When in particular instances God gives them over to their sins (i.e., removes restraints on their doing the disobedient things they desire), this is itself the beginning of judgment. It is called “hardening” (Rom. 9:18; 11:25; cf. Ps. 81:12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28), and it inevitably leads to greater guilt.

Reprobation is a biblical reality (Rom. 9:14-24; 1 Pet. 2:8), but not one that bears directly on Christian behavior. The reprobates are faceless so far as Christians are concerned, and it is not for us to try to identify them. Rather, we should live in light of the certainty that anyone may be saved if he or she will but repent and put faith in Christ.

We should view all persons that we meet as possibly being numbered among the elect (Packer 1993:150-151; also HERE).

Disagreement on a Christian forum

This article will touch down on only a few issues. This response was provoked by an initial comment I received from an advocate of ‘free grace’ theology[2] on a large Christian forum. Here is our interchange:

He stated,

‘There are NO verses that specifically and clearly state that God elects anyone to salvation. None at all. Which is why the Calvinist doctrine of election is in error.

To be elected is to be chosen for special privilege and service, not chosen for salvation. Those who equate the 2 are in error.

The Bible gives at least 6 categories of election that have nothing to do with being chosen for salvation, including Judas, one of the 12 chosen (Jn 6:70)’.[3]

Evidence for election to salvation or not?

Therefore, a logical question for me to ask was, ‘So do you believe that there is biblical evidence for people being predestined to salvation/justification?’[4]

His anticipated response was:

No, I believe that there is NO Biblical evidence for people being predestined to salvation unconditionally.

Unless you understand that God chooses ALL (unconditionally) believers for salvation. Even the stinky ones.

The problem is that the logical conclusion from Calvinism is that per their view of election, God has chosen who will believe, completely removing the free response of man, which is unbiblical.

Yes, God chooses who He will save. And that is believers ONLY. No doubt about it. But Calvinism’s view results in God choosing who will believe, which is rejected as truth.[5]

Hence my reply:

In essence I agree with what you said because I believe in conditional salvation (i.e. human beings make a response) and not the Calvinistic unconditional salvation.
However, my question to you was: ‘So do you believe that there is biblical evidence for people being predestined to salvation / justification?’

I was asking about predestination / election and not unconditional predestination / election. By your response you have indicated that you do not believe in the unconditional election of Calvinism – neither do I as I don’t find it taught in Scripture.

For a better understanding of predestination/election, I recommend, ‘The FACTS of Salvation C: Conditional Election‘ (Society of Evangelical Arminians).[6]

His comeback was: ‘Correct. Calvinism’s election is foreign to Scripture. Election isn’t even about salvation. It’s about being chosen or elected to special privilege and service, as all 6 categories illustrate, even including ol’ Judas (Jn 6:70)’.[7]

There is no concept of election in salvation, he said

He then chose to reply to my statement: ‘For a better understanding of predestination/election, I recommend, ‘The FACTS of Salvation C: Conditional Election‘ (Society of Evangelical Arminians)’.

I just looked over the site you cited. The opening statement was this:

There are two main views of what the Bible teaches concerning the concept of election unto salvation: that it is either conditional or unconditional.

I disagree that there is any concept of election unto salvation. The reason is that of the 3 related Greek words translated “elect/election”; ekloge (noun), eklektos (adjective), and eklegomai (verb), none of these words are used in conjunction with salvation.

In Rom 9:11, Paul notes there is a “purpose in election (ekloge)”.

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:

So we know there is a purpose in God’s election. But is it choosing who will be saved? No, for there are no verses that use any of the 3 Greek words in relation to salvation.

The ISBE [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia] defines election as being selected for special privilege and service. While some may argue that being chosen for salvation IS being chosen for special privilege and service, they have no point or defense, since even Judas was elected (Jn 6:70) and Jesus even described him as a devil.

However, we clearly see that Judas’ election was about special privilege and service, even though he was not saved. To be with Jesus easily qualifies to be a special privilege. And as for “service”, he was the one who betrayed Jesus. Not the kind of service we generally think of, but he did fulfill the plan of God by doing so.

So, when one encounters any of the 3 Greek words, the question needs to be asked, “chosen for what special privilege and service?”.
Also, since the nation of Israel was a chosen nation, and it is quite obvious that many were not believers, this election had nothing to do with salvation.[8]

Election: It’s Greek to me!

I asked:[9]

Can you read NT Greek and the tools or not? If you read and understood NT Greek, you would not come to such a conclusion. Going to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) is not the place to go to learn how to exegete the Greek NT. I suggest that you use these tools:

  • Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
  • Colin Brown (ed), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (3 vols).[10]
  • Kittel & Friedrich (eds), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vols).[11]

I’m not going to do the exegesis for you from these Greek tools that I use. But if you went to Arndt & Gingrich, you would find that the definition of ‘election’ on the site of the Society of Evangelical Arminians is correct and that the view you are promoting on this forum is incorrect.

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives only two meanings for the noun he ekloge (the elect). They are,

1. Active use, which means selection, election as choosing. Examples are a chosen instrument (Acts 9:16), especially of God’s selection of Christians (2 Peter 1:10; 1 Thess 1:4); with the accusative verb, ‘to selection by grace = selected by grace (Rom 11:5); the purpose of God which operates by selection (Rom 9:11); ‘as far as (their) selection or election (by God) is concerned beloved’ (Rom 11:28); there is an outside source from the NT that means, ‘make a selection from among some people’ (MPol 20:1).

2. Passive use, a NT example being Rom 11:7, which means of persons, ‘those selected’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:242)

Arndt & Gingrich give the meaning of the adjective eklektos (masculine declension) as:

1. Chosen, select

a. Generally of angels (1 Tim 5:21); of the Messiah (Lk 23:35);

b. ‘Especially of those whom God has chosen from the generality of mankind and drawn to himself’ (Mt 20:16; 22:14). ‘Hence of the Christians in particular (as in the OT of Israelites)…. chosen (Mk 13:20, 22, 27; 1 Pt 1:1; 2 Tim 2:10; elect of God (Lk 18:7; Rom 8:33; Col 3;12; Tit 1:1, etc.

2. ‘Since the best is usually chosen, choice, excellent … Rufus ‘chosen in the Lord’, ‘the outstanding Christian‘. ‘Of a stone choice‘ (1 Pt 2:4, 6) [Arndt & Gingrich 1957:242}.

I did not have the time to go through the other Greek resources to demonstrate that this person’s perspective was incorrect when compared with the Greek meanings, gained through exegesis.

Election does refer to salvation!!!

He went to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia to try to gain support for his view of election. However, when I go to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Walter Elwell ed, 1984), this is what I find about the meaning of …

Elect, Election. Scripture employs a rich vocabulary to express several aspects of God’s sovereign election, choice, and predestination. Five types of election call for distinction. (1) There is only one reference to “the elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21; cf. 1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). (2) Election to service or office is evident in God’s sovereign choice of David as Israel’s king (1 Sam. 16:7–12) and in Jesus’ choosing of the disciples and apostles (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16; Acts 9:15; 15:7). (3) The election of Abraham’s descendants to form the theocratic nation of Israel is a common biblical theme (Deut. 4:37; 7:6–7; 10:15; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa. 44:1–2; 45:4; 65:9, 15, 22; Amos 3:2; Acts 13:17; Rom. 9:1–5). The election of Israel originated in God’s sovereign choice, expressed his covenantal love, and served the goal of redemptive history culminating in Jesus Christ. (4) The election of the Messiah is a fourth type of election. Isaiah referred to the servant of the Lord as “my chosen one” (42:1; cf. Matt. 12:18). Of the Synoptics only Luke refers to Jesus as the Chosen One (9:35; 23:35). Peter echoes another Isaiah reference (28:16) in 1 Peter 1:20 and 2:4, 6. These references indicate the unique mediatorial office of Christ and the Father’s pleasure in him. It is an election basic to the final type, (5) election to salvation, with which the rest of this article is concerned.

The most common NT reference to election is God’s eternal election of certain persons to salvation in Jesus Christ. The subject is dealt with comprehensively in Ephesians 1:3–11 and Romans 8:28–11:36 (Elwell 1984:348; also HERE).

If you go to the 1996 revised edition of Elwell’s dictionary (online) you will find that ‘elect, election’ has these emphases: ‘The term “elect” means essentially “to choose.” It involves discriminatory evaluation of individuals, means, ends, or objects with a view to selecting one above the others, although not necessarily passing negative judgment on those others’. These are the meanings of ‘elect, election’, based on the exposition of Scripture that is documented in Elwell:

  • God’s Election of Angels;
  • God’s Election of Israel;
  • God’s Election of the Place of Worship;
  • God’s Election of People to an Office;
  • God’s Election of Individuals for Various Reasons;
  • God’s Election of the Messiah;
  • God’s Election of Means to Accomplish Ends;
  • God’s Election to Salvation of Believers and the Believing Community.

This Elwell exposition harmonises with the biblical material and not with the view this person on the Christian forum was promoting that ‘election isn’t even about salvation. It’s about being chosen or elected to special privilege and service’. Yes, there is election to a special privilege and service, but there also is election to salvation. The biblical emphasis is that this election is effected by God’s initiation and the human being’s free will response to that call. I cannot find the Calvinistic determinism in relation to unconditional election and double-predestination in Scripture.

R C Sproul defines the Calvinistic Reformed doctrine of double-predestination: ‘In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives’ (Sproul, Double’ Predestination, Ligonier Ministries).

The good God and creation of evil

If God is doing everything in the world according to his sovereignty, then God is responsible for all its evil. That would be a horrifying thought. However, I see a different picture in Scripture:[13]

We know from Jesus that,

  • Many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matt 22:14 ESV).
  • Acts 13:48 (ESV) confirms that ‘as many as were appointed to eternal life believed’. So, from God’s point of view, only the elect will believe.
  • However, the Lord is ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Pet 3:9 NIV). We obtain a similar message from 1 Tim 2:4 (NIV) that God our Saviour ‘wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’.
  • Therefore, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’ (John 3:16 NIV).
  • Why was this? That Jesus would be ‘the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2 ESV).
  • So God has provided salvation for all, but how do people receive it? ‘Now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30 ESV) and believe (Acts 16:31 (ESV).

It would be outrageous for God to command all people to be saved and not make salvation available for all people.

We know that God is not the creator of evil (sending the damned to hell) because God is the good God and not the evil God:

  • Psalm 25:8 (ESV), ‘Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way’.
  • Psalm 136:1 (ESV), ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good’.
  • Psalm 100:5 (ESV), ‘For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations’.
  • Mark 10:18 (NIV), ‘“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone”‘.

Richard Bargas (2006) has written an article that does not support double predestination, ‘Double trouble: Is double predestination biblical?

I, the author of this article, accept the Arminian understanding of election. See my articles on this subject:

clip_image003 God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

clip_image003 Jesus died for those who will be damned

clip_image003 Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

clip_image003 Conflict over salvation

clip_image003 Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

clip_image003 The injustice of the God of Calvinism

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[12] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Brown, C (ed) 1975-1978. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, 3 vols. Exeter: The Paternoster Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Corporation.

Buswell, J O 1937. Sin and atonement. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

DeYoung, K 2010. What is the difference between election and predestination? The Gospel Coalition (online). Available at: (Accessed 1 May 2013).

Elwell, W A (ed) 1984. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Kittel, G & Friedrich, G 1964-1977. Tr & ed by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology: A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Slick, M 2012. The five points of Calvinism, Calvinist Corner (online). Available at: (Accessed 2 May 2014).

Society of Evangelical Arminians 2013. The FACTS of Salvation C: Conditional Election (online). Available at: (Accessed 2 May 2014).

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential truths of the Christian faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


[1] Here he acknowledged Buswell’s publication on sin and atonement (Buswell 1937:112-114).

[2] Another free grace theology proponent defined it this way: ‘Free Grace is the view that “salvation is by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ”. 1 Cor 15:3-4. Good works and discipleship ought to follow salvation but are separate and distinct from salvation itself. This is contrasted with Lordship Salvation which views good works as essential to “final salvation”. John MacArthur [is] arguably Lordship Salvation’s best known modern proponent’ (Free Grace Theology, Frequently Asked Questions, ‘What is free grace?’ available at:, accessed 1 May 2014).

[3] FreeGrace2#54, 28 April 2014, Christian Forums, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘I believe that arminianism and calvinism are both true at the same time’, available at: (Accessed 1 May 2014).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[5] Ibid., FreeGrace2#56.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[7] Ibid., FreeGrace2#58.

[8] Ibid., FreeGrace2#60.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[10] Bibliographical details in ‘Works consulted’ at the bottom of this article.

[11] Bibliographical details in ‘Works consulted’ at the bottom of this article.

[12] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[13] I made this post to Christian, Apologetics & Theology, ‘Predestination and Calvinism’, OzSpen#541, 26 May 2016. Available at: (Accessed 26 May 2016).

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1 May 2016.