Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Reformation and Election (Van Dixhoorn)

I recently started reading this resource in my Logos library: T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology.  One article that stands out is Chad Van Dixhoorn’s work on election.  In this essay, Van Dixhoorn talks about the historical background of election, the definition, the various views, the Synod of Dort, Amraldianism, and so forth.  I appreciate how he summarized the Reformed view of election, which is drawn exclusively from Scripture:

At this juncture in Protestant history the precise nature of divine foreknowledge was not yet contested; each side in the dispute would agree that Scripture indicates that God has known all things “from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Indeed, the Reformed were willing to press further the extent of God’s knowledge. In his arguments against Pighius, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562) argues that God does not only know all that has happened and will happen. He also knows all that could happen. His knowledge is more extensive than His foreknowledge. Vermigli does not supply scriptural support for his argument, but others would, reflecting on passages like 1 Samuel 23. There David posed a series of questions to God, first about King Saul, and then about the townspeople of Keilah, querying whether they would hand him over to Saul if the despot demanded it. The point made by Reformed exegetes is that this line of questioning was not too hard for God, for there is no scenario or counterfactual which God does not already know.

But when debating Pighius, the Reformers could not help but turn to the locus classicus of predestination, Romans 9. There the divine announcement is heard, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” even “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” And “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The passage was particularly useful because it brings up the question of human responsibility as Paul anticipates his readers’ response: “why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” And Paul provides the divine response in the form of two questions: “Who are we to talk back to God?” And “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” They concluded that election is God’s free choice only, and that the number of His elect is immune to addition or subtraction. God did not peer into the future in order to find sparks of faith that He could fan into flame. He did not predestine people to salvation because He predicted their good works, or knew they would persevere in the Christian life. There is nothing in human beings that motivated His choice. He set no conditions that He needed to foresee before He would choose the objects of his grace. There was no cause other than His own love that set God in motion toward the salvation of sinners.

Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Election,” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology, ed. David M. Whitford, T&T Clark Companion (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 91–92.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015




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