That’s the title of a tract I was handed on the street earlier this month. It’s in the form of a series of questions and answers. One of the questions is, “How do I know if God has chosen me to be saved?” The answer begins (my emphasis added):
A. You may be one of God’s chosen (elect) people or you may not — only God knows those He intends to save; therefore we have to leave the question of “election” completely to the sovereign will of God.
And since Calvinists claim that, “Jesus died only for the elect,” the answer to the tract’s title question seems to be, “We don’t know.” Christ may have died for you, He may not have — there’s no way to know for sure, and nothing you can do about it, anyways. That’s the Good News?
But it gets worse. Arminians teach that God predestined those He knew would accept salvation. But Calvinists deny this. Instead, Article 9 of the first Chapter of the Canons of Dordt teaches:
This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality of disposition in man, as the pre-requisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: “He hath chosen us (not because we were) but that we should be holy, and without blame, before him in love,” Ephesians 1:4.
(Note that the only support Dordt supplies for this doctrine is by adding some words to Ephesians 1:4.) This is what Calvinists mean by unconditional election. If God chose the good over the bad, that would be a condition. If He chose the faithful over the faithless, that would be a condition. If He chose some and not others for coherent reasons known only to Himself, that would still be a condition (just one we don’t know). Calvinists deny that He had any reason. Instead, He looks across all of Creation, and arbitrarily chooses some to go to Heaven, and some to go to Hell. He could just as easily have sent everyone to Heaven, but decided not to.
I’m not exaggerating. GotQuestions?, in defending unconditional election, says as much:
God could have chosen to save all men (He certainly has the power and authority to do so), and He could have chosen to save no one (He is under no obligation to save anyone). He instead chose to save some and leave others to the consequences of their sin (Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 7:6-7; Romans 9:10-24; Acts 13:48; 1 Peter 2:8).
There are a lot of things wrong with this vision of salvation. For starters, it renders both faith and works irrelevant. That is, they have no place to play in our salvation at all. We’re saved because of God’s election, not because of our faith. We then have faith because we’re already saved.
But what’s most ironic about it is that, in defending this scheme of salvation, Calvinists rely heavily upon the ninth chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans. I say “ironic,” because in this letter, St. Paul is opposing those who believe that God arbitrarily divided the world into two groups: the Jews and the Gentiles (“Greeks”), only one of whom He’d save. Paul writes in response to this, in Romans 2:6-11,
For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
My reaction is simple: if St. Paul was a Calvinist, would he have written these words? Could he have? It would be more accurate, were he a Calvinist, to say that God does show partiality, and does divide the world into two arbitrary and unchanging groups for purposes of salvation, but that the two groups are elect/reprobate, rather than Jew/Greek.
What then, to make of Romans 9, where Paul does seem to say that God divides the world between the saved and damned before the dawn of time? If he changing course? Of course not. Paul is quick to note that membership in these groups changes, as those who weren’t God’s children can become His children (see Romans 9:25-26). And Paul summarizes his argument from Romans 9 this way (Romans 9:30-33):
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.
Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Note his rhetorical question: why? He doesn’t say, “God arbitrarily decided it.” He doesn’t say “They lost the cosmic lottery before the dawn of time.” He says, instead, that they rejected Christ (the “Stumbling Stone”), and rejected faith, treating salvation as something that they could merit or earn through works of the Law.
So even here, St. Paul is quick to bring the question of salvation back to this: what do we believe, and how do we respond to that belief? But if Paul believed in unconditional election, that question is irrelevant. So St. Paul certainly doesn’t appear to be a Calvinist.