Election: “Those he called,” Part 2 (Paul)

Paul’s use of “called”

So let’s take a fresh look at Paul’s use of “called,” which is surely informed by the prophetic use of the word.

(Rom 1:5-6 NASB) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

The Christians in Rome are “the called of Jesus Christ” among the Gentiles. Notice it’s not “you have been called” but “you are the called.” “Called” is a status in this passage (the NIV misses this but the NASB gets it right). Just so in —

(1 Cor 1:24 NASB) but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

— “called” is again a status, not a verb. And then there’s —

(Rom 9:7 ASV) neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

Isaac’s seed was “called,” not because they would be issued an invitation they would irresistibly accept, but because they would be God’s covenant people (also 9:12).

Therefore, we might take “called” as referring to being brought into the covenant–

(Rom. 8:30) And those he predestined, he also [brought into the covenant]; those he [brought into the covenant], he also justified [=acquitted]; those he justified, he also glorified [=brought into God’s presence].

To test this theory, let’s try Romans 9 –

(Rom. 9:23-26) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also [brought into the covenant], not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

And consider when Paul uses “calls” in the present tense —

(Gal. 5:7-8) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

Well, “invites” refers to people not yet saved. Paul is speaking to the saved. But “brings you into the covenant” works fine. We are “called” because we’ve been grafted into the called community, the covenant community.

Now, Paul sometimes refers to individuals as “called” (as in 1 Cor 7), but the individuals were “called” when they were added to Israel, the covenant community.

Summing up

Calvinism insists that God only calls the elect, and the elect are unconditionally chosen regardless of their works and their faith. It’s all God. There’s no human element to who is elect and who is not. It’s not arbitrary, but God hasn’t revealed his reasoning. But it has nothing to do with the goodness or willingness of those elected.

Therefore, those who are “called” are only those irresistibly elected — whom God has chosen and whom cannot resist God’s call — which is always effective.

I think this is mistaken. Rather, the meaning of “called” must be found in the covenant theology of Paul and the prophetic use of the word with respect to Israel. And Israel was elected by God. But it was the calling of a covenant community. Not all Israelites made it to heaven. Indeed, only a remnant became Christians and so remained a part of God’s covenant community.

If we don’t hear the Old Testament echoes in the word, we replace Paul’s covenant theology with interesting Augustinian metaphysics. I think even those who are Calvinists need to see these verses through the eyes of Paul as a Jewish rabbi working valiantly to bring the Gentiles into Israel and hoping that his beloved Jewish kinsmen would be provoked into jealousy — and accept Jesus.

Of course, it seems to me that the story — a key part of God’s story — is all about choice. The Jews made bad choices and Paul hoped to change some of their minds.

On the other hand, the old Calvinism/Arminianism debate is not a salvation issue, and many Calvinists behave like Arminians when it comes to evangelism and mission work — indeed, many are far more effective than many Churches of Christ. So theory notwithstanding, the result can be much the same.

Last note — while I obviously lean toward the Arminian side of the issue, I tend to actually find myself somewhere in between — as explained in the Third Way series.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to Election: “Those he called,” Part 2 (Paul)

  1. Anonymous says:

    There is an overkill element in these posts that tends to be saying that most all churches outside the coC denominations are completely Calvinists, which is far from the truth. There are churches that have a balance between the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism. Not agreeing with Calvinism on the issue of election as well as they don’t agree with Arminianism on that a saved person can lose salvation. Both Calvinism and Arminianism contain elements of truth, both are true and both are false. Neither should be a substitute for the Word of God. The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism and more divine than Arminianism, and more Christian than either of them.

  2. Bob says:

    A most interesting article. I often sense Calvinists mistake corporate election for individual election. In support of that, I don't usually find Calvinists mentioning Matt 24 where Jesus is talking about His second coming. When the word ‘elect’ (verses 22, 24, 31) is used, it's apparent that Jesus is speaking about those who are already believers. Isn't it true that God doesn’t want anyone to perish (1 Pet 3:9)? If so, it seems that everyone is called. But clearly, not everyone responds to the gospel message. And because everyone is called, everyone has the capacity to become “elect”. But no one is “elected” until they believe. So, who are the elect, anyway? The elect are those who already believe.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Who are the Calvinists that you say don't mention Matthew 24. It helps when you comment as such when you can specify who you are claiming to do such. And do you know all Calvinists and what they believe?

  4. Reggie Perrin says:

    Someone once said that many are called but few are chosen. Wonder what he meant by that?

  5. Bob says:

    Reggie – It wasn't my intention to overstate anything with a blanket statement that "I often sense Calvinists mistake corporate election for individual election." But that is my conclusion with regard to the many discussions I've had with Calvinists. Every Calvinist? No, just those I've interacted with. And as yet I have not met a Calvinist who has a good explanation (other than, "Hmmm, this must be a derivation of the Greek word for 'elect'.") Perhaps you have a rationale explanation? As to if I know all Calvinists? No. Do I know what Calvinists believe? Yes, I think I do.

  6. Anonymous says:

    "As to if I know all Calvinists? No. Do I know what Calvinists believe? Yes, I think I do."

    Obviously you don't know what all Calvinists believe. Not all churches labeled as Calvinist believe election as you say they do.

  7. Bob says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    In my previous post I referred to you as Reggie. My apologies.

    I have yet to come across a "Calvinist church" that doesn’t accept the five points of Calvinism; total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Granted, there are also four-point Calvinists – but even they accept unconditional election. Perhaps there are other “flavors” of Calvinism that I am unaware of. However, as a central tenant to Calvinistic thought, please identify a Calvinist church that does not believe in election.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Anon,

    I really don't know where you're coming from. Where have I said non-CoC'ers are all Calvinists? I began the series claiming to be a Calvi-minian, and I stand by that.

    Nonetheless, I exegete the passages as I've said. That doesn't make all Calvinistic claims wrong. I just means that I disagree with their usual interpretation of Rom 8 – 11.

  9. Martin says:

    Referencing the first letter – would the writer kindly identify what they consider to be an extreme belief of Calvinism. And, just who "are [those] churches that have a balance between the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism". Thank-you

  10. Zach Price says:

    My long time priest always said that even priests never cease to discern their calling and that the discernment is a life long process because God continues to call us each and every day.

  11. Bob says:

    Dear Anonymous – Given that you've posted three comments, I suspect that you may be lurking (as am I) to see what else might be said here. So far as I can tell, Calvinist arguments are wholely supported by or completely fall flat on their face with regard to election. There's no middle ground as you seem to imply. As I stated earlier, I'm not aware of any Calvinist church that doesn't believe in election. Please advise. Also, I'd like to 2nd Martin's request that you identify the extreme beliefs of Calvinism and Arminianism.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Bob,

    Southern Baptists generally teach P but not TULI — that is, they reject Calvinistic election but teach perseverance of the saints. Under the influence of Piper and others, we see Southern Baptists moving toward traditional TULIP.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Martin, As to the first part of your comment I wiould ask you to reread the comment posted. There are denominational and non-denominational churches have balance between these two men as well with other people from past. Research other churches and what they believe, not just a handlful but do an indebth research.

    Do you hold to all the teachings of those from the Restoration Movement?

  14. Bob says:

    Thanks for the input, Jay. My ardent Calvinist son-in-law is a student at Southern Baptist Theogical Seminary in Lousiville KY. One of the reasons he chose SBTS was its affinity with Calvinism. Perhaps SBTS wasn't always "Reformed", but it's certainly my perception that it is now. Perhaps living in John Piper's backyard of Minneapolis and interacting with some of his parishioners causes my "baptist perception" is skewed. However, I have always thought (and observed) that baptists are generally Calvinists by nature. To that end, John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Albert Mohler and others do seem to be moving Southern Baptists (and, so far as I can tell, all Baptists in general for that matter) toward a stronger affiliation and acceptance of Calvinistic (TULIP) theology. Although I don't know if CJM is a SB. However, I see a lot of attribution to him by my baptist friends.

  15. Reggie Perrin says:

    Perhaps the Baptists used to be Calvinists, then got away from it, and now some are turning back towards their theological roots. I believe Spurgeon (one of the most famous Baptists) was a Calvinist as was Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim's Progress. Some time back I heard some Baptists complain that Baptists has "forsaken the faith of their fathers" by their rejection of Calvinism. Maybe it is a little like the way the pendulum has swung one way and then another in the churches of Christ and no one knows just where it will be 30 years from now.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    Reggie,

    You're right. They originated as TULIP Calvinists. They rejected TULI (most did) in the last century or so. They appear to be swinging back.

  17. bradstanford says:

    Though I have stayed out of the fray as much as possible on this one (very difficult!) God wouldn't let me. On a business trip last week, I heard an interview with a senior editor of Christianity Today. In September, he wrote an article entitled "John Calvin: Comeback Kid" (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/september/14.27.html).

    He described how Calvin's theology is being studied and discussed more and more amongst believers. Great respect was held for The Institutes Of Christian Religion, as it should be: I have yet to meet a 26 year old that could come close to writing anything similar.

    This discussion is Kingdom-wide. Even in atheist/christian debates, I see Calvin mentioned. Calvin will indeed be a point of discussion for the next decade, if not two, I predict.

    Which is partially sad. Even Calvin himself would have preferred that we talk about God. "The Institutes…" was his way of helping that dialog (and lifestyle) along. He was just trying to help!

    I surmise that if we all read "The Institutes…" that there would be less discussions about those "ardent Calvinist"s, and more discussion about the deep things of God. Realizing that Calvin considered his extensive work (that we struggle to read) as "basic" instruction, and that few in any American church could articulate or document their beliefs that well, it would do us no harm to try to rise to understand the ideas that we alternatively praise and condemn, depending on our own, less articulated beliefs.

    I will state it again for those who have not read my comments before – I am not a Calvinist. My beliefs sometimes get me branded as one here, at which my Calvinist friends laugh. I seek truth, and I'm not willing to throw out the proverbial infant with the liquid the infant was bathing in.

    I do believe we should be careful with labels, as they do muddy the discussion waters. Many of us disdain the use of "conservative" and "liberal" – now referred to as "progressive" for some reason – in our denominational circles, and rightly so. There are far more thoughtful people who believe what they believe than unthoughtful people. (Thoughtful does not equal enlightened, though, and there lies the rub.)

    We should look at each other and say, "Wow he's thoughtful, but didn't draw the same conclusion. Let me learn why he thinks such and so. I might be missing out on some truth." This, as opposed to, "Let me save him from his ignorance!" If ignorance is to be revealed, so be it, and may we all have the grace to admit it when found, for we all have it. But it will be revealed by God His children through His various means, including preaching and teaching, iron sharpening iron (not a gentle process?), and certainly *not* excluding direct teaching, as the Hebrew writer describes.

    Dialog is key, especially as the CofC (and other denominations) face continued decline, perhaps to the point of irrelevance, if not extinction. Let us show how godly we are through our patience with one another, encouraging each other to grow in our knowledge of Him who has indeed called us.

    Let's not miss out on unity because of our categorical dismissals. That's what the Pharisees did. John Calvin – some 440 years dead – is having more impact on conversation (and perhaps the world) than the CofC. After 100 years of debates, CofC theology is not finding its way into Baptist churches, but elements of Calvin are finding their way into both, and other denominations as well.

    That might be worthy of a second, slow-to-speak, thought.

  18. bradstanford says:

    Correction:
    "But it will be revealed by God *to* His children through…"

  19. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, Brad. Just one quibble. CoC baptismal and elder theology are moving into the Baptist world. Not that they would agree with us exactly, but many are much closer to us on whether a church should have a plural eldership and the sacramental nature of baptism — per earlier posts here.

    I can't link to them because I'm typing while at a seminar on affordable housing.

    Of course, the Baptists are moving even further away from us on the traditional TULIP issues.

  20. bradstanford says:

    Jay:
    The elder theology is not a result of CofC work, but the result of Baptists who are passionate about God reading His word and responding to it. They are responding to the truth. They didn't just add an elder-structured service to satisfy part of the congregation. They truly studied and changed.

    That is an example worth imitating.

    If this same movement of reading the word and responding to it has led to more investigation of Calvin's work, it's another sign of passionate desire to know God and His ways. Most anyone here has read some sort of commentary when studying to help them understand a particular book verse and chapter. Reading “The Institutes…” helps with the whole picture.

    One other thing from the article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/septembe
    "One of the mysteries of the mystique of Calvinism is how such a high predestinarian theology could motivate so many of its adherents to such intense this-worldly activism. Calvinism was certainly a dynamic force in shaping the contours of the modern world, including features of it that most of us would not want to live without, such as the rule of law, the limitation of state power, and a democratic approach to civil governance. Though Max Weber was off the mark in identifying the "spirit of capitalism" with the Puritan desire to find assurance of election in a joyless acquisitiveness, he was right to point to the importance of Calvinist ideals—thrift, hard work, fair play, personal responsibility—in the development of a robust economic system.

    Calvin's theology was meant for trekkers, not for settlers, as historian Heiko Oberman put it."

    There is obviously something more to Calvin's views than the oft-misrepresented "It's all planned so why do anything?" Those who dismiss Calvin with a turn of the nose and a wave of the hand miss out on their own heritage as well as lessons in how to change the world.

    The remark about trekkers vs settlers is the key. The CofC is settled, wondering how to defend the settlement. The Baptists who have taken to Calvin (30% coming out of seminary, according to the article) have rediscovered the passion, and that makes all the difference to those who want to change the world, rather than promote their staked-out corner of it.

    The idea that the CofC somehow influenced Baptist structure is hopeful at best. There is a move of God on that we should praise Him for, and implore Him to include us.

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