One of the reasons I like this book by Michael Horton is that he’s talking about topics that, like the holy underwear of Mormons, are not subjects discussed in public. This series will go back and forth between Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism and Michael Horton’s For Calvinism. Today I want to look at Michael Horton’s chp on election, which he calls “Loved before Time.”
Horton’s will no doubt become a go-to book for those wanting a clear exposition of Calvinism, though (as both Horton and Olson constantly emphasize) Calvinism is not the same as Reformed, covenant theology. This is a book about Calvinism and a “For Reformed Theology” would be a different book.
Is election in Calvinism good and just?
No topic is more difficult than election. Michael’s conclusion has an idea that can be brought in first; election may be a mystery but there is no mystery that the Bible affirms election. How God elected, whom God elected, and the mechanics of election — these are not readily explained. But that God elects, that’s all over the Bible. (And Michael often appeals to Romans 9-11, but he has a good sketch of the Bible’s texts on this topic.)
Arminianism teaches election on the basis of God’s grace but in conjunction with human decision (Horton: “in view of” a person’s faith that God foresees) while Calvinism teaches that God elects “unto faith.” In other words, for one it is “conditional” and for the other it is “unconditional.”
Does this mean God chooses unto reprobation? This is often called double predestination. Horton emphasizes with many in the Reformed tradition that God doesn’t choose to damnation and that God’s choice unto redemption is active while the other is simply not acting. [I don’t buy the escape on this one; the choice not to elect remains a choice.] The problem for the reprobate is their own will; the only hope of the saved is the act of God.Michael is also an advocate of God’s active will and God’s permissive will. [Again, this can be pushed back: the choice to permit is an active choice.]
One of Horton’s emphases is that in Calvinism’s sense of election it is all God’s action; while in Arminianism it “depends ultimately on us” (59). I don’t like the word “ultimately” but instead of playing with loaded terms like this, I want to provide an analogy: electricity. I liken God’s salvation to electricity in a home, a monstrous home big enough for all of us. Those who experience that electricity are those who turn the switch to on. That does not make it ultimately depends on us; it’s God electricity but we are called to turn on the switch. Some do, some don’t. In other words, there can be no question in this analogy of who is responsible — ultimately and totally — for the flow of electricity. (God.)
Is election individual or corporate, and this involves whether it is for redemption for other purposes? Arminians have often taught corporate election, and Calvinists see it both as corporate and individual. I think Arminians teach both, too, but the bigger issue here is that every text Michael appeals to here can be explained as corporate as easily as individual. This issue isn’t easily resolved.
Is election fair? Judgment is all that is fair. This is typical of Calvinism. I don’t approach this one this way: what kind of God do we have if God can intervene for humans by election but who refuses? So the issue here isn’t just is it fair but also is God good and loving and compassionate and merciful? If so, what does that do to this “fair” question?
When it comes to human responsibility and election, Horton adopts a form of compatibilism: that God has ordered a world in which divine election and human responsibility work together. Our free acts are part of God’s decree. He has a good discussion of this subject.
He has an exceptional discussion of election and assurance, pushing one line constantly: this isn’t about looking into ourselves but looking unto Christ, unto what God has done, and unto the covenant commitment God has for God’s people.