Eight Theses on Election: Dr. L. Paige Patterson
Since 2003, Dr. L. Paige Patterson has presided over Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Previously, Dr. Patterson was president of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N. Car. The post below – an extensive and detailed sermon outline – originates from a student’s hand who heard Dr. Patterson deliver the message on August 27, 1998, at SEBTS. Checked for accuracy against an audio file of the sermon, the outline below is presented with Dr. Patterson’s permission and with SBCToday’s gratitude not only for Dr. Patterson’s sermon, but also for his leadership in our beloved Southern Baptist Convention especially since 1979.
Eight Theses Concerning the Doctrine of Election, 1 Peter 1.1-2
by Paige Patterson
I. Two mistakes can be and often are made.
A. To treat the doctrine of election in the Bible as though it did not exist at all.
1. There are evangelistic, missionary-to-the-core churches that do not speak of or teach the doctrine of election.
2. The pastor is afraid to speak of election even though it is prominent in the Scriptures, and this fear deprives members of one of their greatest blessings.
B. To construct one’s theology and soteriology primarily around the doctrine of election.
1. This model cannot be found in the Word of God.
2. The soteriology and even the theology of the New Testament is constructed around the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and his Great Commission to take the Gospel to the end of the earth.
II. Any assessment of the soteriology of the Bible must reckon with the entire witness of the Scripture without facile handling of apparently divergent texts.
A. E.g., the ardent Calvinist says the “whosoever wills of the Bible” refer to the elect.
1. This is facile use of the Word of God.
2. It is a poor explanation of what the Bible says regarding the doctrine of election.
3. It does not consider the whole witness of Scripture.
III. Any construal of the doctrine of election which makes one more of an evangelist for a system of theology than an evangelist for Jesus and His free salvation to all men is seriously at odds with the Word of God.
A. More clearly: If one is more of an ardent advocate of Calvinism than you are of Jesus as an answer to men’s souls, then you are out of step with the clear teachings of the Word of God. This is determined by what one speaks of the most, Calvinism or Jesus.
IV. Any formulation of the doctrine of election which diminishes in any way either intentionally or unintentionally the passion for or aggressive practice of confrontational evangelism must be jettisoned as unworthy of both the spirit and the mandate of the New Testament.
A. More clearly – Whatever your doctrine of election is — if it intentionally or unintentionally slows you down in the task of confrontational evangelism, you have yet to discover what the Bible teaches about election.
V. Any formulation of the doctrine of election which eliminates some or most of all of the people on the face of the globe from any possibility of salvation at the outset and automatically condemns them to hell reduces the warning of Jesus about the unpardonable sin to little more than spiritual terrorism, or worse, deliberate deceit, since by definition every sin of the non-elect is unforgivable.
A. This thesis is the hardest to understand, but is the most devastating.
B. Jesus issued a poignant warning against an unpardonable sin.
VI. Election is somehow bound up in the foreknowledge of God.
A. Clearly in 1 Peter 1.2 “according to the foreknowledge of God….”
B. This raises the questions for Calvinists: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If God foreknows something to be the case, is it conceivable that it be any other way?” And the answer is “No.”
C. But be careful. Not once, but twice the Scriptures speak of election being bound up in the foreknowledge of God.
1. Romans 8.29-30 – For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
2. It cannot be argued or denied that this passage of Scripture is not sequential in nature.
a. Glorification does come after justification.
b. Justification does come as a result of calling.
c. Calling does come as a result of the predestining act of God.
d. Predestination is based in the foreknowledge of God.
3. Even though we don’t understand it, we must not deny that it.
VII. Although it is all together a healthy exercise to wrestle with the doctrines of election and responsibility, sovereignty and human freedom, the failure of 2000 years of theological reflection to crack the mysteries of God’s electing providence should instill humility rather than hubris in the interpreter.
A. For 2000 years people have been discussing this and it may be the only reason for building cafeterias and coffee houses on seminary campuses. No one has come up with an explanation to satisfy anybody else.
1. My explanation doesn’t satisfy you.
2. Yours for dead sure doesn’t satisfy me.
B. Under such conditions, is it not better to say, “God, in Your greatness you have done, thought and acted in ways too transcendent for me to embrace”?
VIII. If we are unable to resolve the apparent paradox of biblical instruction, its heavenly wisdom proving too transcendent for fallen intellects, then perhaps we should advance to a new question. Maybe instead of asking how it all works, we ought to ask instead, “Why is the doctrine of election in the Bible?”
A. If God has placed something in the text that seems to be too far beyond us, and we can’t make it all make sense with human logic as we know it, then why would he do a thing like that on such an important topic?
B. If you change the question from how does it all work to why is it there and then read Romans 8, it will unfold like a magnificent panorama of unparalleled beauty before your very eyes. You will discover four things.
1. As long as doctrine of election is in the Bible, salvation is God’s act from beginning to end.
a. It is not what man does, but it is what God does.
b. Man never thought of it.
c. Man never planned it.
d. Man can’t produce it.
e. Man can’t sustain it.
f. It is God’s act from beginning to end.
g. Romans 8:29-30 says “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” You do not read anything about man in this text.
2. As long as election is in the Bible, the impossibility of apostasy is made crystal clear.
a. Romans 8:35-39 asks who will separate us from the love of God?
b. When you come to Jesus Christ and you are regenerated and born again, you can never forfeit that salvation. How would it be possible for God to lose somebody He had elected to salvation?
c. As long as the doctrine of election is there in the Bible, it guarantees that once you are saved, you are always saved.
3. As long as the doctrine of election is in the Bible, it guarantees God providential oversight of His children.
a. Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
i. It doesn’t say that everything was good.
ii. (Mt 7:11) – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
iii. Your heavenly Father takes the worst things that the devil and life itself can deal to you by way of a hand, and He turns it into a winning hand and blesses you through the whole thing.
4. As long as the doctrine of election is in the Bible, we don’t have to worry about how the world is going to end.
a. It guarantees a designed climax of the age, even though we may differ on the specifics of culmination. All may be somewhat surprised – post-tribbers more than others.
b. Romans 8:21-23 says that the whole creation groans and travails awaiting something – what? – rejuvenation of God’s created order.
c. All is not out of control. Ultimately, we do not have to worry who has the missiles. We know that God is guiding world events inevitably toward the designed climax of the age, and election guarantees it.
C. So if you ask the question “Why is the doctrine of election in the Scriptures?” you will feel much better about the answers that you get. And you will have to leave unresolved, until we get to heaven, the question of how to reconcile the apparently divergent positions of Scripture.