Chapter 3 of Michael Horton’s book “For Calvinism” focuses on the doctrine of Election (The U in TULIP stands for Unconditional Election). Calvinists believe that God selected certain people to be saved before time began, based solely on His mercy and grace. Of course, both Calvinists and Arminians believe in election. They simply interpret it differently. In this chapter, Horton critiques the Arminian position(s), and argues for his own position… insisting that the questions provoked by the Calvinistic interpretation of election will largely remain in the realm of mystery on this side of eternity.
There are two main ways that Arminians interpret election. Some believe, much like Calvinists, that God selected certain individuals before the world began for salvation. The only real difference (though it is a big one), is that these Arminians believe the BASIS for this selection was God’s foreknowledge. God knew who would respond to His grace and, therefore, selected them. This interpretation is based largely on Romans 8:29 and Horton, I think, does a decent job of interpreting that passage differently (foreknowledge has more to do with pre-intimacy than pre-information).
Since I don’t hold to the above Arminian view, I was more interested in how Horton would treat the second possibility. Some Arminians (myself included) believe that election is corporate rather than individual. I believe, for instance, that God, before time began, elected ‘The Israel of God’ (believing Jews and Gentiles) to be His people. Individuals play a role in deciding whether they will be in Israel/Christ, but the body itself is always elect and secure. In my opinion Horton didn’t really have an impressive critique of this view. He argued that it’s true, but that individual election is true too. I don’t doubt that some individuals were selected for certain roles, but that is a far cry from saying every individual is either selected for salvation or not.
As for his own view, Horton clearly knows it is apparently problematic. He spends a good bit of energy insisting that God actively selects some for salvation, but only passively leaves the rest in their sins. Recognizing that the selection of only some seems unjust, he tries to argue that Arminianism faces the same critique in that God could have chosen to save people regardless of their response to grace (but this is a bad argument, that wouldn’t be saving ‘people,’ only robots). He responds to the problem of children who die before repenting by suggesting that, as an exception, elect children (children with elect parents?) may be saved without repentance. As for assurance, Calvinists simply must trust the promise of the Gospel (not sure, really, how that would solve the ‘am I elect?’ problem).
Horton is not too sure about a lot of this election thing either. He chalks it up to mystery. We “cannot resolve” it, but we must affirm it (65). We may wonder how it is possible, but with God all things are possible (even contradictions?). Conveniently, for Horton, election transcends reason (so we don’t have to try to make sense of it?). The closing thought of the chapter is, basically, that we should stop being so curious about God’s mechanism of salvation.
I have to admit, the chapter left me feeling a bit icky.