Election of all in Christ
The title of this section makes me want to cheer! All humanity is elect in Christ.
Radcliff cites Ephesians 1:4-6. James Torrance believes this passage refers to all humanity, because verse 10 refers to Christ’s mediatorial headship over all, where God the Father “sums up all things in Christ.” I have often wondered about this passage, because the letter is addressed to the church. So when Paul says “we,” is referring to believers only, or to all humanity? I will go with the latter, following JBT and Irenaeus long before him.
For TFT, election is a fait accompli in Christ. For those who do not “parlez vous francais,” that means that it’s a done deal. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?). Torrance says:
In as much as no one exists except by the Word of God by whom all things were made and in whom all things consist, and in as much as this is the Word that has one and for all enacted the eternal election of grace to embrace all men, the existence of every man whether he will or not is bound up inextricably with that election—with the cross of Jesus Christ.
God claims all humanity in Christ. In Christ, we are all judged. In Christ we are all chosen. That seems pretty plain to me.
Election is Grace
What is the relation of grace to election? Which is prior in God’s mind? According to the Calvinists, election precedes grace. God first elects a few from the mass of sinful humanity, then he offers them grace. (This is a rather ungenerous view of God.) In Arminianism, it’s the other way round: grace precedes election. God offers grace to all (I like that part), but then he only elects those whom he foreknows will decide for Jesus. (I don’t like that part.) This puts the burden for salvation back on our shoulders, for salvation is only actualized when we walk the sawdust trail and shake the preacher’s hand, while the choir sings the tenth stanza of “Just as I am.” We used to do that when I went to the Southern Baptist church. That was before I became a heathen Episcopalian. (Today I am a trans-denominational.)
Calvinism limits election. It turns what should be the good news of God’s election of all in Jesus into a nightmare. Out of the 100 billion (?) people who have ever lived, most of whom have never heard the name of Christ, God “mercifully” elects a few for salvation. I just can’t get my head around that kind of theology. According to this view, as I once heard Ken Blue say, the world is nothing but a “vast slaughterhouse.”
The Calvinists detach election from Jesus and move it into eternity past in the inscrutable will of God, whose purposes are unclear. As TFT often notes, this means there is a different God behind the back of Jesus, creating a lack of assurance for salvation and turning us back onto our own efforts to produce fruits (proof) of election. This amounts to a lot of hard work, and even then you can’t really be sure you’re in. Arminianism, on the other hand, make election conditional: “God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect.” In other words, if you decide for Jesus, you’re in. Again, this puts the burden of salvation on our shoulders rather than on Jesus. When election is made either prior to or subsequent to grace, it is detached from its foundation in Jesus, and we are all left wondering whose in and who ain’t.
In the Torrance tradition, following my hero Karl Barth, grace is neither prior to nor subsequent to election. Rather, election is grace. As Radcliff notes, following TFT, the election of all humanity in Jesus offers assurance that we are all included in God’s love. David Fergusson writes:
Included in the election of the risen Christ is the election of every man, woman and child. Each individual is determined by the love of God.
The Calvinist doctrine of election is derived from logical-causal thinking. If not everyone is saved, as the Bible may (?) indicate, then obviously Jesus did not die for everyone, or else there would be a deficiency in the atonement. So clearly, Jesus must have died for the elect only (narrowly defined), and that brings you inevitably to the unbiblical doctrine of limited atonement.
Comment: If you think about it, the Calvinists are beginning with “man as sinner,” and they build their system from that. This is why the Torrances insist we must begin with the “Who” question: “Who is Jesus,” and derive the “how” from God’s self-revelation in his Son. It’s the difference between beginning your thinking with the first Adam or the Second Adam. I know which I choose. (In the Westminster Confession of Faith, their awful doctrine of election is in chapter three. They don’t get to Jesus till chapter eight. By then, most folks are already toast. Ugh!)
As Barth says, “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best.” Compare that to the “horrible decree” of the Calvinists! As Radcliff notes, as she will often in this book, our election in Jesus means “people do not have to depend upon their own religious efforts to provide evidence for their salvation. Rather, we are liberated to freely devote ourselves back to God.” The Gospel is good news folks. It’ time some people realized it!
Conclusion (per Radcliff, p. 33)
“The Torrances believe that God has elected all [contra Calvinism] of humanity unconditionally [contra Arminianism] in Christ. Election is not prior to grace, as found in Federal Calvinism, nor is grace prior to election, as found in Arminianism. For the Torrance’s, God’s election and grace must not be placed within man-made logical-causal categories but rather guided by God’s self-revelation of his filial purposes in Christ. This gives assurance of salvation because we do not have to worry whether we are one of God’s elect. Nor do we have to wear ourselves out trying to bear fruit that is the evidence of our salvation. God’s election of humanity in Christ means that we are all included in his plan of redemption.”
For more (a lot more!) on Torrance’s doctrine of election, see my previous post here.
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Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.