Don't Be Stingy
In his book "A Generous Orthodoxy", when speaking of the doctrine of unconditional election, Brian McLaren in an attempt to redefine TULIP, asserts that anyone who believes in a God who elects some and not others to eternal life (1 Peter 1:2) must be so self-absorbed in their standing before God that they view themselves as having what he calls "exclusive privilege" over others.
How McLaren could reach such a puzzling conclusion is a very interesting question, one which I hope to explore more in depth (along with a testimony of God's grace in my own conversion) below:
It can be demonstrated, on the contrary, that the divine intent of revealing the the doctrine of election to us in Scripture was actually to bring about the opposite effect. Understood rightly, our election in Christ safeguards the biblical axiom that our salvation is by the grace of Jesus Christ, and by that grace ALONE ... that salvation is wholly, not partly, procured by Jesus Christ and our being united to Him by His Holy Spirit. Paul thus defines a Christian as one who worships in the Spirit of God, glories in Christ Jesus and has no confidence in the flesh (Phil 3).
The two religions in the world, as we know them, are human attainment and divine accomplishment. That is, (1) a religion which affirms we are delivered by what God does for us or (2) an alternate religion which (maybe in addition to God's help) believes it is something we do for Him: a contribution, however small it may be. This means there are two possibilities: (1) either Christ and His work is wholly sufficient for your redemption or (2) Christ's work is insufficient to completely save and so additional elements on our part are needed to pay the full price of our redemption. Are we saved because of Christ, or because of our faith. If Jesus died for all our sins, this includes the sin of unbelief. So even the very heart and new life needed to apprehend the excellency of Christ are granted to us. Our unregenerate wills are not sufficient to pull ourselves out of our own hostile nature.
In other words, the moment we remove divine election from Christianity is the moment we remove salvation by grace alone in Christ alone. These two things are intricately conjoined at the hip and to separate them is, by definition, to remove the TOTAL sufficiency of Christ. Divine election ensures that our boasting is in the cross of Jesus Christ, and that this boasting is unmixed with other idols.(1)
In order to understand this further consider that we who believe God elects some and not others, also would affirm that we justly deserve the wrath of God save in Christ's mercy alone. The word "alone" signifies that there is no other condition whatsoever, only Christ. This means that it is mercy alone that makes us to differ from others. When we see others, therefore, we cannot boast that God saw something virtuous in us, or because of some condition we met that others did not have the wherewithal to do. No, none of these makes me more worthy of salvation than they. I am just like them and perhaps morally worse in many ways, and though I deserved to be cast away from God's presence, because of His gracious work in His life and death for me, Jesus Christ delivered me by His sovereign good pleasure (Eph 1:3-5). Therefore, those who believe in election have no false illusion about their own virtue, because they have none. Their sufficiency is in Christ.
In fact, if we consider those who reject election as a biblical doctrine, we can only conclude that they deny Christ saves completely and that He only gives an opportunity to them to see what they do with their will and talents for God. So without election it is at least partly about what these persons do for Christ and not wholly what He does for them. This problematic understanding leaves room to boast and to think more highly of oneself. In this (unbiblical) scheme, we thank God we are not like others who do not have faith, and so we, whether consciously or not, consider that in some way we are better than them. This is because, to those who deny particular election, the glory of Christ is not the sole cause of our salvation but we look partly to ourselves for it. That, my dear brothers, is the definition of boasting, and therefore, not the kind of faith spoken of in Eph 2:8, 9 which leaves no room it.
God calls humanity to obey His law perfectly and he commands us to believe in His Son, but neither of these are apprehended or desired by the carnal mind (1 Cor 2:14). In fact, no unregenerate person is able to see the truth, beauty or excellency of Christ as revealed in the Scripture. To apprehend this truth requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (John 6:63-65, 1 Thess 1:4,5). To claim, as many evangelicals do, that an additional element for salvation is needed (above and beyond election in Christ alone) is to claim that some persons can naturally understand God (those who believe) and not others who fail to see goodness in Christ (those who don't believe). His teaching would lead us to believe that these persons naturally came to the apprehension that Christ was true, beautiful and good and others refused to see this .. and raises the question as to why they are different? Any answer apart from grace in Christ ALONE is boasting to some degree. It would appear then, that to disregard the doctrine of election itself opens all kinds of doors for personal boasting. That our "privilege" has something to do with us, our virtue, our will our making better choices than others because we were more wise perhaps ... but a refusal to believe that our redemption comes from Christ alone, plus or minus nothing.
Humility is, therefore, the only possible response to being able to contribute nothing to the price of one's redemption in Christ. And even this humility to believe the gospel itself is graciously revealed in us by Christ. Some, on the other hand, teach that God's love and election are conditional, based on something we do: Either responding to Him by believing and doing good to others. Thus Christ blesses and saves as a result of our action rather than that cause of the action springing from a renewed heart to which the glory goes to Christ alone.
Hopefully I can attempt to further demonstrate this through a bit of history. Allow me to take a few moments to explain a little about the events surrounding the time when Christ opened my eyes to the truth of the gospel about 30 years ago:
When I was in Colorado studying for my bachelor's degree, I had become convinced of the truth of a God's existence, yet was attracted to all kinds of New Age Occult mysticism and Eastern Religions. I read anything I could get my hands on and basically fused the best of what I saw in all of these religions. The influence of pantheism soon gripped me to such a degree that each morning I would awake at 5:00 a.m. and do chants and meditations for two solid hours. I went through the day in an other-worldly consciousness and thought of practically nothing else. It was part of my credo that all world religions were equal and each brought pertinent information regarding the puzzle of our existence. The Bible and the Bagavad Gita, therefore, were seen to compliment one another rather than have any disagreement. Soon I would see all things from a Hindu/Buddhist perspective. Thus I affirmed that God was not someone who was "out there" in some kind of dualistic universe, but rather, that we are all part of the one God ... that deep down at my core, I believed, I was God.
Likewise, as I read the Bible, Jesus, to me was simply someone, like ourselves, yet who had reached his fullest potential (like a Bodhisattva) by balancing all his Karma from all "previous lives" so that he was ready for his ascension. I saw him as someone to emulate so that, I too, could eventually transcend the cycle of rebirth (reincarnation) and finally reach the liberating moksha of nirvana. Even so, I read the Bible continually at the same time as I read the "scriptures" of other religions, and even would come across passages in the Bible such as "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me." But I would interpret such passages to mean that the Christ-nature was something that was in each of us and that Jesus was saying that no one could come to the father except through that which dwells most centrally in us. Our human potential was infinite in us since I affirmed that we would each return to our True Self, which was Deity.
Now as a Christian you will recognize that there are not many things more boosting to an ego than to believe yourself to be God. But I did. But I would begin to see small inconsistencies when reading the Bible when comparing it with other things that I believed. For example, one day I was lead to read Deuteronomy 18:9 and following which lists off practices that are detestable to God. Among them are mediumship, spiritism, divinity, interpreting omens, speaking with the dead, etc... This put fear into my heart for these were among the practices I frequented. It drove me to my knees and to prayer to ask God to show me if everything I believed were true or not. Soon the Lord led me to Romans 9:15-18 and, at the time I was reading the NIV so I will quote it for you from that version:
"For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."
It was, at the moment, as I read verse 16 that the Holy Spirit took away the scales from my eyes that I might believe the gospel. In that moment God revealed his sovereignty, holiness and exclusivity. That He alone was God and I was not. It took the doctrine of election for me to see the truth of Christianity ... that all the things that Christ had claimed were about Himself, not some divine nature inherent in each of us. This concept that God will have mercy on whom He will and hardened whom he will, according to His good pleasure, stripped me of any and all hope in myself. That I was merely the clay in His hands to do with me as He pleased. And so we are never so close to grace as when we begin to understand that we can do nothing at all apart from Christ. That he chooses if our eyes will be opened or not for reasons in Himself alone, and not in us, in our character, our desire to believe (as Romans 9:16 teaches) or our efforts to do good to others. No it is Christ alone who saves and to put salvation into any other category or add anything to Christ at all is to misapprehend the fullness and completeness of the grace found in Jesus Christ. So when God revealed these truths to me I had no idea what a Calvinist was, I merely believed the plain reading of the Scripture. On the contrary, the rejection of this doctrine is often due to reading the text through the lens of eager evangelists who are entrenched in their own traditional views of salvation. New believers easily pick up on this and follow what they are told by their new church.
So, the belief in divine election, did not make me feel some exclusive privilege that I could boast in. On the contrary, it humbled me from thinking I was God and thus revealed to me that He alone is wise.
The challenge from this short essay is this: If those who affirm this perspective, embrace a definition of election that does not make us boast in Christ ALONE, or for a salvation that is WHOLLY of God, then what condition are you adding? Is God's love for you conditioned upon your natural faith in Him? Won't you give glory to God who alone gives you the humility, new eyes and a renewed heart that we might even have faith. "For what do you have that you did not receive?" "A man can only receive what is given him from heaven" Do we give all glory to Christ or are we partially responsible for our salvation. Note: We all agree that we have the responsibility to believe the gospel. That is not the question. The question is, are there any naturally willing to submit to the gospel, apart from Christ granting you the mind and heart to receive it? If His grace is merely an offer to those hostile to God by nature (the gospel declares) then how do unregenerate men see goodness, truth and beauty in Christ. Do we unharden our own stony hearts or is this also the work of God for which we gladly thank Him for?
Therefore, if McLaren is, in fact, promoting a teaching which rejects the doctrine of particular election, that Christ's work alone is not enough, not sufficient for salvation, but that we must add something to it to make it effectual then I would suggest that the name of his book should be re-titled from "A Generous Orthodoxy" to "A stingy heterodoxy". For if we do not give God ALL GLORY for salvation, then we are still reserving some glory for ourselves. Don't be stingy. Give Christ the glory.
Let me say this, if you reject election, EVEN if, in word, you say that all glory goes to God, your theology loudly declares otherwise, for it is not the grace of Jesus Christ alone that saves but grace plus some additional element you wish to keep back for yourself. So in actuality it is those who reject the biblical doctrine of election that can boast of privilege due to some factor in their natural selves. Did God change us so that we might believe or did we change ourselves? Are we saved by grace alone or saved by grace plus our will and good intentions? Does not mercy declare that Christ saves us in spite of our ill intentions? In spite of ourselves when we only deserved eternal ruin?
Consider: Did Jesus die for our sin of unbelief? If yes, then He paid the full price of our redemption. If no then we also must pay a part of it. Are any human beings up to this?
And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted."
"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Matt 11:27
(1) note: I do not thereby conclude that all who do not believe this are not Christians, only that they are confused or inconsistent with revelation. Christ often saves us in spite of our imperfect understanding ... for it isn't our perfect understanding that saves us, but it is Christ who saves us. However, to the degree we promote bad doctrine is the degree we commit idolatry, and God commands us to flee from all idols.