Corporate Election = Impersonal Election?

April 13, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
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Calvinists often accuse those who hold to The Corporate View as promoting an interpretation of election that is “too impersonal.” For example, Dr. James White, a notable Calvinistic apologist states,

Remember Ephesians 1:4, ‘…just as He us in Him; the direct object of the choosing is us, and that’s personal. I don’t believe there’s any way in Ephesians 1 to make it impersonal, because predestination is unto what? Sonship. And what do you have then…who is the ‘we’ who has been chosen, and predestined? The ‘we’ then in verse 7, ‘we’ have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Now there are people who just want to make this, ‘Well, all it’s just talking about is this group, and God has predestined that there would be this group, that will be in Christ.’ It’s up to you who is in it. He doesn’t choose; it’s an impersonal thing. It’s just a group. It could be a small group, big group; God’s not really in charge of that. He does the best He can, to get as many people in there as possible. But no one really knows. Technically, He could have had just a few. And, once you get in the group, that He predestinates that if you are in the group, then you’re going to be adopted. And then once you’re in the group, you can say that you have forgiveness of sins, and things like that, but you see it’s all meant to de-personalize the knowledge of God in eternity past, and de-personalize the choice that He made. He chose a group; He didn’t choose you.[1]

Dr. White argues that The Corporate View of Election is impersonal because God is choosing what will become of a group of individuals versus choosing individuals to be in the group. But, what Dr. White fails to recognize about those of us who hold to The Corporate View is that we also teach individuals are chosen to be in the group. As Ephesians 1:13 clearly states,

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.

How does an individual come to be “in him?” Through hearing “the word of truth” and by believing the individual is “marked in him.” So, God chooses to include the individual into the group when they believe the truth. The individual is personally included by God’s gracious choice. God is not obligated to do this; it is purely a gracious action for God to include even repentant believers in Christ.  After all, God is no more obligated to graciously elect someone conditionally than He is unconditionally.

Those who are “in Him” are predestined to “be made holy and blameless” or “conformed to the image of Christ” (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29) and adopted as sons upon the redemption of their bodies at glorification (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 8:23). Even though the group of individuals has been predestined to sanctification and glorification that does not negate the very intimately personal choice of the Father to show grace to whosoever humbles themselves and trusts in Christ (1 Peter 5:6, Eph. 1:13).

So, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree that God chooses individuals to be “in Him.” Calvinists believe the individual is unconditionally chosen before he/she is “born or had done anything good or bad,” based on their erroneous interpretation of Romans 9:11. While the non-Calvinist believes God’s choice is intimately personal because God is choosing to save someone who is admitting how bad they really are right in the midst of their shame and guilt (Luke 15:11-32; Acts 3:19; Luke 15:10; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Calvinists teach that God chooses individuals without regard to their character, behaviors or anything personal about the individual. Non-Calvinists teach that God chooses to save individuals who are humbled and broken by their guilt and shame. Which is really more impersonal?

Is a man who chooses a woman to love out of a list of names without regard to anything related to her personality, behaviors, desires or her passions more intimate and personal than a man who chooses to love a woman he fully knows, faults and all? Ask any woman that question, if the answer is not obvious.

This argument reveals a confounding paradox of the Calvinistic claims. On the one hand, they teach God chooses to love an individual without regard to knowing their behaviors (see the Calvinistic interpretation of Rom. 9:11), yet they maintain that God eternally determines all things that come to pass (including those very behaviors). So, do Calvinists believe God is determining to save an individual without regard to His own determinations for how that individual will behave, all the while intimately foreknowing these “elect” individuals from before the foundation of the world? Is God supposedly ignoring his intimate knowledge of everything about an individual, which He Himself providentially determines to come to pass, while choosing (before the foundation of the world) to save that individual?

Does God choose a man without regard to what he knows will certainly come to pass (as Calvinists interpret Romans 9:11 to mean), or does He choose them with full intimate foreknowledge of their very personhood (as they interpret Romans 8:29 to say)? Or, more simply, does God just determine what all men will do, choose to save some men and damn the rest to eternal torment so as to demonstrate His power?

Are you dizzy yet?

Regardless of how the Calvinist attempts to explain this quandary, there clearly is no grounds on which to accuse those of us holding to The Corporate View of teaching a more impersonal view of election.

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For more on the Corporate interpretation of Election in Ephesians 1 please CLICK HERE.

[1] http://examiningcalvinism.blogspot.com/2015/01/james-white-comments-on-sermon-by-james.html

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peter

Dr. Flowers

I continue to be helped along by your commentaries. I remain confident that, given your shining intellect, biblical expertise, calm temperament, and no-give-up attitude, you perhaps more than anyone of note in SBC to date are poised to finally shut down any Calvinistic influence James White has amongst Southern Baptists.

May our Lord continue blessing you.

With that, I am…
Peter

    Leighton Flowers

    Thank you Dr. Lumpkins. Your words are very encouraging, but it will take more than what I have to offer to deter the influence of those like Dr. White, IMHO.

Bill Mac

While I’m not entirely bought into the corporate view of election, in my opinion it is vastly more plausible than the classic Arminian view of election, which I find incredible.

Rick Mang

So, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree that God chooses individuals to be “in Him.” Calvinists believe the individual is unconditionally chosen before he/she is “born or had done anything good or bad,” based on their erroneous interpretation of Romans 9:11. While the non-Calvinist believes God’s choice is intimately personal because God is choosing to save someone who is admitting how bad they really are right in the midst of their shame and guilt (Luke 15:11-32; Acts 3:19; Luke 15:10; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

But God chooses “from before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1.4), so, score 1 for Calvinists.

    Andrew Barker

    Rick Mang: You quote “But God chooses “from before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1.4), so, score 1 for Calvinists.”

    Rich I trust you don’t see this as nit picking, but you appear either to have not read what Leighton has written or you have plainly not understood what he is saying. The passage you have quoted may sound correct but it is your own made up version. There is no scripture anywhere which has the phrase ….”God chooses from before the foundation of the world”. The correct phrase is God chose us in Him before …..etc. It is the omission of the words ‘in Him’ which is at the heart of the problems Calvinists have in rightly handling this passage. Essentially, they read it as if it is saying ‘into Him’ but this is incorrect.

    The phrase ‘in Him’ is also at the heart of the nature of election because Biblical election is by design a corporate entity. An individual stands as the corporate head and people derive an identity from that individual. Hence Abraham becomes the father or many nations. Issac and Jacob are also part of the promise(s) hence you have the phrase “The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob” appearing. So strictly speaking you can have more than one ‘head’ of an elect body. Nobody else in Israel is ever seen as the head of Israel, not even the greats like Kind David. It has nothing to do with salvation per se but everything to do with God choosing the people through whom he is going to work and bring salvation not only to Israel but the whole world.

    To say, as Calvinists do, that individuals are ‘elect’ and then become part of ‘an elect’ is in effect double election. That would make them an ‘elect’ of ‘the elect’. But we don’t see this in scripture. The Bible is quite clear that Jesus is ‘the chosen one’ and we are elect ‘in Him’. That’s how election works. The phrase ‘corporate election’ is really a misnomer because election is already corporate but election is clearly corporate in nature. God has chosen how he will incorporate people into His son. It is and always has been by faith. That is God’s choice and the way he has made it possible for everyone to be elected.

    As for your score line, my take on that is that you’ve scored an own goal! You may of course appeal to a referee?

      Andy

      And +1 point for a reference to soccer, the world’s greatest game!

      Robert

      Andrew,

      Excellent short and concise presentation of the Corporate view! Something that occured to me as I read your description here is that it means that Jesus as the elect one is the point of emphasis. This is a very Christological election view. Another thought is that if corporate election is true, then it means first God designs the plan of salvation/including election. Then in history he selects people who have faith, and those are then put ‘in Christ”. This avoids the confusion and divisiveness of the unconditional election view and also avoids the God elects those whom he foreknows view’s problems. It becomes simply the case that God is looking throghout history for people with faith like Abraham, so they become his spiritual descendants and they are all put “in Christ” and so in union with him, his truly elect people. The scripture is also clear that we get “in Christ” by faith alone, so it maintains the emphasis on faith throughout the NT. Lastly, if God desired to create a world where there would be genuine human persons with genuine wills, not puppets as in determinism. He would create a world where salvation of individuals was determined in time through personal and real relationship between God and people: not a predetermined script where people are puppets with no real choice.

        Andrew Barker

        Robert, thanks for your comments. I have to confess that, although they are my comments, my ideas have been shaped quite markedly by God’s Strategy in Human History (Forster/Marsden). It’s a very useful read and also provides an excellent study on choosing and choice in scripture. Very often, I hear people referring to election as a difficult doctrine. One where it is hard to accept the way God deals with us. Election, correctly understood not only makes a lot of sense but avoids the pitfalls which Calvinism digs for itself. For people who are struggling with election, I would recommend reading and re-reading the story of Ruth. It epitomises the way God deals with those who in human terms are non-elect outsiders and how he brings salvation to all.

Doug Sayers

Thanks Leighton. If I was/were (?) still a Calvinist I would be squirming a bit over this one.

Indeed, we don’t love or hate somebody… based on nothing and we definitely can’t judge somebody based on nothing. (Nor does God).

Calvinism (especially the “Supra” variety) essentially has the final judgment taking place before anyone was born and based on nothing that we would actually do… or believe in our entire lifetime. I can agree that a sovereign God might do this but not a righteous and holy sovereign God. This fails both the biblical test and the common sense test for a judgment. You can’t have a judgment over “nothing.” Calvinism renders the final judgment a perfunctory announcement of an alleged prehistoric decision.

The older I get… the more uncomfortable I am with my understanding of the scope of God’s omniscience and how He chooses to use it!

There is a reason that the Reformed views of salvation have always been (and continue to be) the minority views among Bible believing people; and the reason is not their “Pelagian pride” or their exalted view of human autonomy.

Keep up the good work.

    Robert

    Doug,

    In making your point about not being able to love or hate people who do not exist it reminds me of a point that needs to be made regarding Romans 9. As you know, THE calvinist proof text for their erroneous views on election is Romans 9 (they separate it from Romans 10-11 a mistake because it separates it from its context, and they read in their concepts of unconditional election of individuals and reprobation of individuals, eisegete these concepts into the text rather than exegete these things out of the text). They especially try to use v. 22 to present “reprobation”: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate HIs wrath and to make HIs poer known, endured with much patience vessles of wrath prepared for destrution?” They say that this is talking about the reprobate, but nothing is said about them being chosen in eternity for damnation. In fact if we take the verse the way it ought to be taken, it speaks of God enduring with much patience these people. Could God be patiently enduring people in eternity that did not even exist? No. They had to be already existing for Him to be patiently enduring them. This means the verse is talking about God patiently enduring real people who existed in history. So the time referent of v. 22 cannot be eternity, but instead it is talking about God doing this in real time, in real history with real people. It speaks of God patiently enduring the Jewish people in the first century who for the most part had rejected Jesus. It is not talking about God choosing some for damnation in eternity when no one yet existed. Just had to make that point Doug as you were speaking of loving and hating non-existent people.

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