Along with comments of appreciation, requests for Scripture references to be included, the infographic (which seems primarily built around the solid Romans 8:29-30 framework of Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Justification, and Glorification) has sparked some interesting comments, criticisms and protestations.
More than one commenter mentioned their displeasure at what they perceive as its deficiencies owing to the infographic’s Calvinist teachings.
However, one comment caught my eye as being especially out of place in the usual Calvinist-Arminian debate. One commenter mentioned her belief that the teaching about the Father’s Sovereignty in Election (that God chooses some for salvation and not all) was a cruel doctrine typical of Calvinism. A response to that assertion noted that if God did not choose anyone then no one could be saved. At this point the original commenter asserted that the Father’s Election should be properly thought of as universal in the first place.
“I would say it this way: Thank God He chooses ALL otherwise none would be saved.”
At this point the discussion is no longer Calvinism-Arminianism but Particularism-Universalism.
The above statement as written makes the word “choose” have no actual meaning unless one is a universalist. If the word “choose” has a meaning then this statement is also only true for Universalists. No orthodox Christian strand of faith has ever affirmed what is quoted above.
Within Protestantism, for example, both Arminianism and Calvinism affirm that neither election, atonement, nor regeneration are universal. They are both particularist theologies which differ only in their understanding of the intentions and mechanisms of limitation.
Please note that I’m writing this off-the-cuff on a mobile device. I apologize for the lack of formatting and scripture links. I’ll try to fill them in later.
Note that normally this list would move both logically and chronologically from Election, to Atonement, to Regeneration but since the point of contention is Election I’ll move backwards.
Example 1: Limited Regeneration (The Spirit’s work of applying salvation)
Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal regeneration, that is, not all that are born once are “born again.” Another way of saying this is that not all who are born of flesh are born of the Spirit (Jn 3:3-6). Again, if every person without exception was regenerate (born again/born from above/born of the spirit), then every person without exception would be saved.
Usually this point is pretty uncontroversial since it is the most easily and visibly illustratable. I think pretty much every Christian understands without having to be explicitly convinced through detailed argumentation that not everyone is “born again.” Only Universalists can affirm universal regeneration and would say that everyone is “born again” without exception.
Example 2: Limited Atonement (The Son’s work of purchasing salvation)
While this is the most controversial point between Arminianism and Calvinism it is crucial to note that both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal atonement as they are not universalists.
For if every single sin of every single person was actually and fully atoned for on Calvary without exception then all men are saved without exception as there will be nothing left to punish at the final judgment. (note: This is not to say that Christ’s death was not sufficient for all. This is where the theological distinction between the sufficiency and the efficiency of Christ’s atoning death becomes important.) Only Universalists can affirm a universally applied unlimited atonement. Both Calvinists and Arminians deny it.
Arminians and Calvinists only differ in HOW and WHY the atonement is limited. The specifics of this distinction are important enough to merit an entire post in itself and so I will not go into it here.
Example 3: Limited Election (The Father’s plan of salvation)
Both Arminians and Calvinists affirm a non-universal election. This is primarily due to the word elect/choose/chosen being deliberately introduced as a scriptural marker of contrast or separation. The word elect or chosen has no meaning as a contrast or boundary marker if it is universal. For example after the 2008 presidential election results were tallied, Barack Obama was known as the President Elect since he was the one chosen by the Electoral College. This phrase would have no actual meaning or purpose if John McCain had also been the President Elect. The phrase exists solely to distinguish one from another (specifically a particular chosen one from a non-chosen one).
There are distinctions on individual election or corporate election or even ethnic election, but all acknowledge that election neccessarily includes exclusion.
For example, Arminianism teaches (based, for example, on Rom 8:29) that God looks forward to see who will accept His offer of salvation and come to faith in Christ. Then based on this informational “foreknowing” He elects only those who He has foreseen as faithful. This is Non-Universal Conditional Election.
Calvinism teaches that God elects according to His own pleasure and counsel (based, for example on Eph 1:5,11 and Rom 9:11-29) completely independent of man’s actions or decisions. This is Non-Universal Unconditional Election.
By this time it should be pointed that the three groups (the redeemed/atoned for, the regenerate/born again, the elect) are simply different names for the exact same set of people. There is not a single member of one group that is not a member of both of the other groups. The differing names arise from what aspect of God’s grace is being emphasized in relation to God’s people. In fact this is one of the points of Romans 9:29-30.
Every single person who is foreknown by God is predestined by God.
Every single person who is predestined by God is effectually called by God.
Every single person who is effectually called by God is justified by God.
Every single person who is justified by God is finally glorified by God.
(side note: notice that Paul deliberately makes the human utterly passive in every step. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.)
And while men can and do constantly fail, God never fails to do what He sets out to do. This is what gives assurance to the much cherished promise in Romans 8:28 that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Finally, it is also equally important to note that the Persons of the Trinity are in perfect harmony with each other and are never at odds. Every single person the Father Elects, the Son Atones for; no more and no less. Every single person the Son Atones for, the Spirit Regenerates; no more and no less. The is not a single person who is in one group but not another because the Trinity is not at odds with each other.
1. The Father’s work of Election occurred in eternity past. No one but God has personally ever seen it occur.
2. The Son’s work of Atonement occurred in history past. We who are living today have never personally seen it occur.
3. The Spirit’s work of Regeneration occurs during every believer’s life. We can personally see it occur in our lives and in the lives of other believers.
We believers can only personally experience firsthand the fact that Regeneration is not universal. The other two points must be taken with faith from the Scriptures (along with the fact that they are logically consistent with each other). This is yet another reason why our faith cannot be grounded on our extremely limited experience but on the solid bedrock of Scripture.
update 2/1/12: some clarifications added.